-37

Update (Feb 17)

We're going to scrap this idea as presented. This is something that had been kicked around a bit for the last few months as we considered ways to communicate "This is what we've been doing and thinking about" types of things here on meta.

We're going to develop the idea a bit more and then propose something more thought out.


Following up on this answer that I wrote to a question wondering if the policy on political discussions had changed (and several other places), I indicated that setting 'announcement-y' type stuff apart from features, bugs and discussions was something we could do to lessen the dissonance folks feel when they find something from us that just .. doesn't look like everything else.

It's just super weird and confusing for us to present stuff to you that isn't really, well, a question alongside tools for you to close things that aren't really questions, and expect you not to close stuff that doesn't really fit.

This post itself is a great example of communication from us that's more dissertative or expository than socratic or mutually-engaging. While we very much welcome and encourage any feedback to this you'd like to provide to this, it isn't really a question, and it was posted mostly to inform folks of something that we're doing. It's a little different from everything else and that's confusing; it tends to bother folks that really care about things being in their proper place.

There are two kinds of communication that we as a company produce: things that are meant for the general public who typically aren't very familiar with the ins-and-outs of what we do (our blog), and things that are meant for the most engaged users on our platform (meta). While these things do often intersect, the Community Growth team is most focused on communication that needs to start here, which might ultimately make its way to the blog in some form.

As our team ramps up our efforts to engage more on our meta sites, we need a way to make certain kinds of communication feel less out of place. In order for that to happen, our software needs to better support it. To do that, we're implementing a new 'root' tag called .

How does it work?

The tag is moderator-only, similar to the , , , and tags.

Only those with moderator privileges (regardless of employee status) can apply or remove the tag.

Questions posted with the tag will show a special message underneath:

This is an announcement from the Stack Overflow team; thanks for reading! We'd love to hear from you if you wish to leave a comment or an answer; you're also welcome to contact us directly to share any thoughts.

In addition, questions with this tag can't be closed, deleted or flagged as spam or abuse. However, this restriction only removes the close and spam / abuse flag options, and only applies to the question itself. All other functionality remains the same.

Why can't the community vote to close these types of questions?

Because closing them means that we preclude any additional answers from folks that have something that they'd like to tell us, which is something that simply can't happen.

Why can't the community flag these types of questions as spam or abusive?

Because they will have always been written by an employee which means that we're very certain that the posts are neither spam or abusive. We do not wish to risk communication being deleted and the employee posting it dealt a -100 rep penalty.

If you feel that something we've written doesn't fully align with our be-nice policy, there are many less destructive means to let us know.

Where will this be implemented?

This will be available on all child meta sites and here on Meta Stack Exchange. We expect to see it used mainly on Meta Stack Overflow and Meta Stack Exchange, along with some use on announcements during private beta periods for very new sites.

Occasionally, we get involved with a contest or event that's very specific to a particular community such as Gaming or others; we'd use this feature to announce the particulars on meta, and the blog to let people know it's happening in a more general way.

How often will it be used? What kinds of things can we expect to see?

From one to several times each month, approximately. As Jobs and Documentation continue to evolve at a rapid pace, Meta Stack Overflow might see several more each month. We'll keep the noise down and avoid redundant communication by editing in updates rather than posting something entirely new whenever possible.

If you love updates and have been wanting a way to easily get updates from the team, you can subscribe to and or favorite the tag. If you don't care to see things unless they're major, you can hide the tag and just watch for featured posts.

Will employees always use this tag when posting?

No. In fact most of the time is what we're going to be using. This tag is for instances where we'd love feedback if folks had any, but don't really have any particular questions to ask or specific kinds of input that we need to build stuff.

Would real-world calls to action such as the SOPA or immigration thing use this?

We talked about this on Meta Stack Overflow. From that discussion, two things emerged that I think can help us move past that.

  1. We aren't saying that we'll never need to come engage with you here, or on MSO, if something really serious is going on and we need to not just post something but also have a conversation with you.

  2. In all cases going forward that we can currently envision, we'd probably use the blog, and if things get too crazy on the blog or too difficult to moderate (e.g. a lot of noise from people that aren't even users), create an announcement to open a discussion on meta instead.

If you have any questions, concerns, ideas you'd like to share or just a general opinion either good or bad about this feature, please let us know in comments or answers.

If you'd like to hear a duck quack, press 4.

  • 74
    -1 until it's guaranteed that this tag won't be used for posts about political issues that don't endanger SE's existence. We can't let a turmoil as violent as what happened because of meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/342440/time-to-take-a-stand happen once more. – dorukayhan Feb 4 '17 at 17:12
  • 21
    Warning: comma splice at index 53: "This is an announcement from the Stack Overflow team, thanks for reading!" Complete sentence terminates with faulty punctuation: ',' – Josh Caswell Feb 4 '17 at 17:23
  • 37
    Maybe when you quantify the damage "Time to take a stand" caused, you'll change your mind regarding taking sides and/or discussing politics on SO. – Fermi paradox Feb 4 '17 at 17:40
  • 40
    I'll post a fuller answer later, but this STILL doesn't address any of the issues brought up on the other post. What's the difference between this and featured? How can I use this tag to avoid Joel's soap box but not miss out on actual new stuff? Also I think it's total crap that this is now the Uber tag that the community can't vote to close. A huge problem of Joel's post was mods, employees and Joel himself abusing the reopen power. Now you guys are giving Joel more power to ignore the community? I get he is the CEO and he owns SO, but this just kills community involvement – David Grinberg Feb 4 '17 at 17:55
  • 18
    Might be worth noting that SE's view on this idea has not changed substantially from a previous similar kerfluffle. We should all probably know what we're getting at this point; this is its formalization in the platform's source code. – Josh Caswell Feb 4 '17 at 21:34
  • 18
    @Tim why isn't this featured? Guess you want everyone to know, no? – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Feb 4 '17 at 22:26
  • 13
    Can you explain how the [announcement] tag will be different from the [featured] tag? What things would you tag with [announcement] that you would not tag with [featured]? I can't think of anything. So I wonder why this needs to be a separate tag. [featured] is already moderator-only, so all of the same rationale applies there. Why can't these changes just be made to [featured] posts? The only issue with that would be if you wanted to make an [announcement] that flew under the radar, but that seems a bit disingenuous anyway. All announcements worth posting should be featured, in my opinion. – Cody Gray Feb 5 '17 at 9:32
  • 19
    ...and now you have two problems. – Mego Feb 5 '17 at 10:51
  • 39
    You know what the "most engaged users on our platform" think about Joel's post (that it puts the whole company to shame). Giving inappropriate content a new name does not solve the problem of its inappropriateness. Also, I feel like you've now started mixing together things that are terrible on SO (political rants) and other, actually completely unrelated things, that could even make sense (separating announcements from featured posts). – Mathias Müller Feb 5 '17 at 11:16
  • 24
    Previously, SE has always seemed to know when to stop digging ... – user147520 Feb 5 '17 at 14:50
  • 29
    Why not simply use the SE blog for these things? Those posts are featured in the sidebar as well. – Bergi Feb 5 '17 at 17:46
  • 9
    @HDE226868 That's what I'm saying. It's indeed a good idea and I think people will get used to it rather quickly. But it is unfortunate that Tim's post here implies there is a relation to Joel's - because it could be seen as paving the way for more such inconsiderate messages from the CEO (or retrofitting that specific post into something "valid"), whereas the scope of the announcement tag will of course be much more general. If an announcement tag was planned all along, the timing is not ideal. – Mathias Müller Feb 5 '17 at 21:57
  • 24
    Stack Exchange has just passed another inflection point. I'll give this more thought and either drop using the sites completely or come back with a more comprehensive post on how bad a decision this is. Words cannot express my profound disappointment in Joel and the team right now. – Adam Davis Feb 6 '17 at 17:35
  • 12
    @TimPost We'd definitely want to have a conversation with them if they did, and I don't think it would happen said here. Doesn't that imply that staff now expect that moderators sheepishly follow whatever stand SE takes? Or do I misinterpret that comment due to my recently evolved presumption that SE staff has an hidden agenda? – rene Feb 6 '17 at 21:38
  • 29
    This post makes me lose faith in both Stack Exchange and the Stack Exchange team. – Gnemlock Feb 7 '17 at 1:39

12 Answers 12

71
+100

What is this actually solving?

I know what this is trying to solve. This is what you had mentioned in a previous post; a way for you guys to be able to post this type of stuff when you need to, but let us filter it out so we don't have to get bogged down by the issue (you had a good post describing it, I'll try to find a link later).

But how does this actually solve that problem at all?

First off, it's still not clear to me at all how the new tag is different from the tag. The tag has historically been used for announcement type stuff that you seem to be describing. You mentioned documentation and jobs. Well documentation used featured, and so did jobs. It wasn't a problem then, so what is going to be the added benefit to changing the tag to ?

I think that there is this misunderstanding that part of the outrage here is that Joel posted a non-question on Meta. I don't believe that to be the case at all. It happens all the time (i.e. see the documentation and jobs posts I linked to) and we have no problem. The problem was just that this was so way out of scope and... well... I think there are plenty of other posts describing the details.

Second, it's clear that if Joel ever posts about a political issue again it should be using this new tag. That means new stuff about Documentation, Jobs and other cool/useful things will share the tag with Joel's soap box. How am I supposed to filter out Joel's political views without missing out on the things I care about (and that is not even bringing up the point that many people don't want Joel making SO/SE/MSO/MSE/etc. his own political channel)? The new tag honestly sounds to me like +(and it seems we don't want a politics tag).

Third, the no-community vote is an honest slap in the face. When Joel made his post the constant close/open war was a clear sign from the community that we had a problem with what Joel did. Now Joel can make another late night, rage induced post that alienates tens of millions of people and the community's ways of showing disapproval become significantly hampered. If anything I feel like this will embolden Joel (and perhaps other employees?) to make unilateral decisions that the community does not agree upon. If we're going to go the no-close route, just put it on the blog. There is no advantage to keeping it on Meta.

Finally, I know this isn't really the purpose of this thread but I think it's important: We need a response from Joel himself. For reasons that I and others (1, 2, 3, 4) have outlined, I do not believe that the wound caused by Joel's post will heal until the man himself says what's on his mind.

To make it clear, I believe that we should not implement this because it solves no problems, creates new ones, and doesn't even address old ones.

  • 5
    Filter out Joel's Posts? – Journeyman Geek Feb 5 '17 at 6:57
  • 21
    I agree that the absolute smallest part of the problem is that it wasn't phrased like a question. In the hierarchy of what is wrong with what happened on MSO, this isn't even noteworthy. It's a big smoke show to make it sound like they're listening to us, when they really just don't care to. – Diminutive Colossus Feb 6 '17 at 18:19
  • Isn't the featured temporary while this announcement tag is permanent? – Panda Feb 11 '17 at 5:08
  • @Panda no. Featured has been around forever and will continue to be around – David Grinberg Feb 11 '17 at 5:20
  • @DavidGrinberg I meant that posts can only be tagged featured temporarily since it shows up in the side bar while this tag can be used to tag a question indefinitely, similar to faq. – Panda Feb 11 '17 at 5:21
63
+100

Nobody is above the Be Nice policy

Don't worry, I'm not going to debate whether the last drama-inducing post was or wasn't a violation of Be Nice. Rather, I want to look at this:

Why can't the community flag these types of questions as spam or abusive?

Because they will have always been written by an employee which means that we're very certain that the posts are neither spam or abusive. We do not wish to risk communication being deleted and the employee posting it dealt a -100 rep penalty.

Though I have no issue at the object level - I'm sure Stack Exchange's employees aren't going to post spam or be rude - blocking those flags completely is going to invite (almost certainly unwarranted) complaints of abuse. It gives people some room to stir up trouble, saying "they had to block flags on their indefensible posts to keep them around!"

Also, it seems a little strange that the flag protection applies only to this tag. Why not to all employee posts? Why not to posts by moderators too - might they post spam and hate speech? Somebody once asked me why moderators' questions can be closed. One reason is that site policies change and a mod might have previously asked a question no longer in scope. Another is that mods are not above the rules. Employees clearly need some flexibility in the Meta platform to post notices (e.g. about Documentation), but they're definitely not above Be Nice.

If a flag is raised in error, it should be declined. Even if six users conspire to maliciously flag-delete a post, I'm pretty sure the 100 rep penalty can be undone by a moderator. Then the bad flaggers can be dealt with. (And if I'm wrong and the penalty can't be undone, that would be a useful feature to add; mistakes can be made.)

As much as I wish everyone was perfectly rational, optics matter, especially considering what debacle spurred this new tag.

  • 35
    Yes. This. Disallowing people from VTCing or flagging specific posts goes against what the whole SE model stands for. On the level of individual posts (as opposed to individual users), there's supposed to be accountability on the community level. Invalid VTCs will be unsupported or reversed by VTROs; invalid flags will be declined. (It's worth noting that even the "take a stand" post that started all this never had enough outstanding abusive flags on it to actually get removed.) – Rand al'Thor Feb 4 '17 at 23:06
  • 2
    My central argument in a less verbose way. +1! – Jan Feb 5 '17 at 0:55
36

This is not fixing the problem.

The problem is not that moderators and who’s who of Stack Exchange need a platform on Meta to post their off topic opinions. The problem is that said people are making off topic posts, and are shielding said posts from being closed/deleted. For goodness sake, Joel even reopened his own post. If that is not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. The post in question was closed 29 times:

  • Feb 4 at 17:47, Feb 3 at 0:03, Feb 1 at 17:08, Feb 1 at 10:19
  • Jan 31 at 22:11, Jan 31 at 19:46, Jan 31 at 17:42, Jan 30 at 9:21,
  • Jan 30 at 7:47, Jan 30 at 5:51, Jan 30 at 2:43, Jan 30 at 16:36,
  • Jan 30 at 16:06, Jan 30 at 15:46, Jan 30 at 15:18, Jan 30 at 14:26,
  • Jan 30 at 13:54, Jan 30 at 13:19, Jan 30 at 12:37, Jan 30 at 10:40,
  • Jan 29 at 6:08, Jan 29 at 4:50, Jan 29 at 3:18, Jan 29 at 23:24,
  • Jan 29 at 20:51, Jan 29 at 2:24, Jan 29 at 19:12, Jan 29 at 16:03,
  • Jan 29 at 14:00

The community said, loud and clear, that this doesn’t belong here. The moderation team ignored it. Joel et al have a perfectly good platform to do this stuff already:

http://stackoverflow.blog

Please, let us not reinvent the wheel. This has happened before, and if we do not speak up it can and will happen again.

Could you have given this response on the blog? No, not really. Not expecting any to-and-fro there. --Oded

Sure, I could just use the blog comment section.

And how much more response do you think a meta post gets compared to a blog post? Quite a bit I think --ThiefMaster

So we allow off topic posts because the main site is more popular than the blog? No. Here is a post from Shog9:

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.

If they actually listened, they wouldn’t be reopening a post repeatedly. Here is some more questionable activity. These moderators reopened the post without voting:

  • 9
    @StevenPenny Why would an announcement from Tim about a new update regarding, say, Documentation be off-topic? You're focusing on one case here, and not looking at the bigger picture. – HDE 226868 Feb 4 '17 at 18:52
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    I'm well aware of that case, @StevenPenny, and I will remind you that, again, there are many more cases where I think the proposed tag could apply. You can list all the meta questions you want which you disagree with, and there will still be others that deserve the tag. This is not a question about Stack Overflow's logo, executive orders, or anything else like them. This is a question about making it easier for SO to discuss things with the community. – HDE 226868 Feb 4 '17 at 19:05
  • 8
    I'm not sure your really hear to discuss this tag, but seriously, you keep repeating the same tired arguments. You haven't address any of the concerns Tim, Shog9, and others raised about using the blog, or even acknowledged those issues. You are also cherrypicking data about why it should be closed, disingenuously ignoring all the data that says the community thinks differently from you. – Alexander O'Mara Feb 4 '17 at 19:25
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    The question has a score of 1425 with 425 favorites. Even if the question being closed 25 times was unique folks, it feels like more of the community wanted it than not. – Journeyman Geek Feb 5 '17 at 8:09
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    The majority of reopenings came by the community itself. Invalidating your argument to a great degree. – Helmar Feb 5 '17 at 8:31
  • 2
    @Helmar the point is that there were far more close votes than reopen votes. No one would be complaining about the reopen / close if those with binding votes had not used them as binding votes (if moderators had been the fifth voter). – Diminutive Colossus Feb 8 '17 at 0:19
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    @JourneymanGeek Yeah the community of users with Stack Overflow accounts with enough rep to upvote that follow Joel's twitter feed thought the post was useful, agreed with the post, or just upvoted it because Joel wrote it. I hardly see that as representative of the meta community. The meta community is the community that determines what is on-topic on meta or not. This is like me inviting all of my friends over to your house for a party, then when you complain about it me saying "Well all these people are having fun so it must be right!" – Diminutive Colossus Feb 8 '17 at 0:28
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    There's no such thing as a "meta" community, outside MSE. Per site metas are a tool for the community to set policy, and handle other such issues. Metas are independant of the main site no more than my room is an independent nation, and the idea of this is roughly as sensible as my spleen being granted personhood. The moment you can vote, and you bother, you count. – Journeyman Geek Feb 8 '17 at 0:34
  • 1
    @JourneymanGeek your comment is about that sensible too. Who are you even talking too? – Steven Penny Feb 8 '17 at 0:50
  • Read one comment above mine. – Journeyman Geek Feb 8 '17 at 1:09
30

How/when should this tag be used by site moderators?

You say:

those with moderator privileges (regardless of employee status) can apply or remove the tag.

But the banner mentioning "the Stack Overflow team" suggests that it's always going to sound very 'official' (unless this banner will be customised to read "the $sitename moderator team" on each non-SO site, which would be great but would send a different kind of message). Also, later on you say:

We expect to see it used mainly on Meta Stack Overflow and Meta Stack Exchange, along with some use on announcements during private beta periods for very new sites.

So, when should site moderators (as opposed to employees) be using this tag? How should its usage differ from, say, the tag? I can think of a few circumstances when moderators might want to use it, although we've coped without it so far and perhaps would do just as well, and would appreciate some more clarity on this point. For example:

  • Topic challenges. Many sites (Puzzling, Movies & TV, Worldbuilding, to name but a few) run periodic events, e.g. once a week or fortnight, in which the community works together to produce good Q&A in a particular tag or topic. There's usually a meta post for the announcement of such a challenge and for a list of all posts qualifying for it. Could these become official ?
  • New blog posts. Some sites such as Worldbuilding and Sci-Fi & Fantasy have site-associated blogs, which need announcements on meta whenever a new post is published. Could these become official ?
  • Obituary posts. Sci-Fi & Fantasy occasionally gets meta announcements of the death of iconic sci-fi or fantasy figures (authors, actors, etc.) There was recently a certain amount of debate and rules-lawyering over whether or not such questions should be allowed, and we reached a consensus that yes, they should. Could these become official ?
  • Elections and election results. I'm veering a little off the main issue here, since these are always posted by employees and not moderators, but we can still ask essentially the same question as above about these announcements: will they now become official ?
  • will add more examples if I can think of any relevant ones
23

You know, I started drafting a post about this general sort of thing around May of last year, because I knew that at some point in the future, someone at SE was once again going to use the network to advertise something that didn't actually have to do with the network. I only didn't post it this time because I was more focused on site banners and logos than featured posts, but perhaps that was an oversight on my part.

Why can't the community vote to close these types of questions?

Because closing them means that we preclude any additional answers from folks that have something that they'd like to tell us, which is something that simply can't happen.

Historically, it's often been the case that an announcement-type discussion has spawned dozens of answers to the point that an employee will edit the original, asking for new issues to be raised as separate questions. This is entirely reasonable for anything that's on-topic, such as Documentation, profile reworks, etc, etc.

It is of course ludicrous for anything to do with politics or religion, but that's a useful indicator in itself. That is, while a post announcing the creation of Documentation is not, of course, actually a question strictly speaking, it's certainly very easily on-topic, and actual meta questions can reasonably be asked on the same subject by anyone. The late lamented kerfuffle was characterized not chiefly by being not-technically-a-question, but by being off-topic, in that there wasn't really any scope for any normal user to post any normal feedback in any area, given the usual rules of the site, even the laxer rules of meta. (That is, the post was, among other things, an implicit invitation for normal users to break the rules.)

So I don't think this is really necessary — feedback is always possible anyway! — nor helpful as it stops normal community moderation — and, more importantly, is seen to do so preemptively and very firmly, as though it is absolutely crucial that every possible measure be taken up-front to stop them crazy close-voters from getting wild ideas that they might be able to use their privileges on this post. That's not necessary, as all problems that could arise can generally be reacted to if they actually do, and it's not respectful. It shows you have so little trust that close-voters, even together, will get things right that you're not willing to let things sort themselves out or even fix a few weird glitches after the fact: you're reprogramming the system to make sure they just can't use their privileges at all on these posts.

  1. In all cases going forward that we can currently envision, we'd probably use the blog, and if things get too crazy on the blog or too difficult to moderate (e.g. a lot of noise from people that aren't even users), create an announcement to open a discussion on meta instead.

I would like to feel reassured by this… but it has a few too many weasel words to be really happy. I do understand that sometimes something comes up that was just never considered before, but SE has been around for most of a decade now, has dozens of employees and thousands of volunteers that have considered all manner of corner cases, and has generally hashed out just about every imaginable case. What's actually left that's not currently possible to envision? And if something does come up, hey, give us a ring with a leading meta post about topicality, maybe. It's not as though any of these issues are so time-sensitive that they absolutely must have a within minutes of hearing about them. (No, not even the one that started this particular episode. Waiting 48 hours to get things squared away would not have appreciably sped up the process of opening the borders back up.)

Anything that's actually this time-sensitive is really not a good fit for SE's audience anyway, as most people won't check meta soon enough to make a difference on the scale of hours; urgent calls to action belong with organizations that are designed for the purpose. And anything that is simultaneously extremely time-sensitive and so crucial that it warrants exceptional measures to buttonhole people who specifically haven't signed up for any such notification lists… is probably so divisive that it doesn't belong on the SE network at all except maybe under extreme restrictions, restrictions sterner than the ones that this format of post specifically tends to lift or bypass.

The success of SE has come from deliberately not trying to do everything well. SE does questions and answers. That's it. Anything outside those bounds tends to rightly be rejected as a dilution of scope that SE's design just isn't capable of handling usefully. When all you have is a hammer, and there's a nut that absolutely must be fastened as soon as possible to prevent your tire from falling off, this is not the time to give up your philosophy on using the right tool for the job and try to pound that nut on. SE doesn't try to solve all the problems of the world, because it can't. That's OK.

  • "That is, while a post announcing the creation of Documentation is not, of course, actually a question strictly speaking". Expressing the things the team wants feedback on as a question is not terribly hard, and should be a minimum requirement for using a Q&A post for an announcement. And when meta questions are actually posted to get a broader community response to points already raised in blog comments, to an announcement that was placed on the blog where it belongs, then the "actually ask a question" requirement should be met organically. (IOW +1) – Ben Voigt Feb 10 '17 at 5:13
19

I think this is at worst, somewhat misguided, and at best, largely ineffective. I don't have a vehemently negative opinion, nor do I have a vehemently positive one.

I don't think this will do what you think it will do. It solves a problem that's less of a problem than it seems. And that means it's somewhat mis-targeted, and maybe just amounts to a complicated waste of time. And if that's true, it means it's going to ruffle a lot of peoples' feathers for... not really that much benefit.

Look, I get it. When a post is made on meta that affects a broad group of people, you don't want that message to be silenced, and you don't want an argument to be heated through the mechanical way Stack Exchange works. But removing those mechanisms isn't really the solution, especially when it comes to spam/offensive flags.

If, for example, six people decide to flag a featured/announcement..ed post as spam, then... a moderator steps in and clears those flags, then messages or suspends (as appropriate) the six people who decided to abuse a site feature. And if you think that this might be a lot of work, or might be inappropriate, or might cause a conflict of interest, or might be too divisive, then this is a sign to maybe consider whether posting anything at all is worthwhile.

Removing the ability to close questions makes sense, anyway. If they're featured, they're obviously important and relevant. Unless someone's abusing the system, in which case, nothing you change is going to help. So just add that feature to the tag, and leave it at that. It's less work, and less energy.

  • 2
    If someone's abusing the featured system, then it sounds like a rogue mod, and therefore a bigger problem than just a single post. +1 to this suggestion. – Rand al'Thor Feb 4 '17 at 23:11
  • (Also, were you deliberately going for an Inigo Montoya impression in your 3rd sentence?) – Rand al'Thor Feb 4 '17 at 23:12
  • @randal'thor Not intentionally! It's unconscious at this point... oops... – Aza Feb 4 '17 at 23:13
  • 1
    -1 featured is automatically removed after a month. That functionality should not be mixed with the close-preventing feature that is suggested here. (Irrespective of the usefulness of that new feature.) – Helmar Feb 5 '17 at 8:50
18

1. Moderator use . . . or not.

I would rather not see moderators use the tag on questions they ask - and I say this as a mod on three sites. I see enough cases of people screaming "mod abuse!", and having a mod prevent a question they ask from being closed or deleted (as a side effect of an announcement) is just an invitation for more of those flame wars. Yeah, I trust my fellow mods to not abuse the tag - and, actually, I get the feeling that many will abstain from using it altogether, even if they should - but I think a lot of users do not have that same trust.

2. Emphasis on feedback.

There have been some really nasty cases where users felt that the company didn't want or care about what they had to say. Whether those feelings were justified or not is immaterial for this point; it just matters that people felt that way. There's a risk that announcements are going to come off as someone talking at people from on high, rather than talking with people on meta. That's a world of difference.

I'd like to see one or two things in a question using the tag:

  • A message emphasizing that feedback is wanted, and that the whole point that the tag is there is to keep the discussion ongoing. Keeping the post open means that people can keep answering, and that brings in more opinions.
  • If not such a message, then at least the tag. Maybe it wouldn't do as much, but it might make people feel better - and again, that's why it must be clear that everyone's opinions are valid, as always. The tag, for the record, should always be on an post (in my opinion).

Tim wrote

This tag is for instances where we'd love feedback if folks had any, but don't really have any particular questions to ask or specific kinds of input that we need to build stuff.

People need to know that.

  • 1
    "having a mod prevent a question they ask from being closed or deleted... is just an invitation for more of those flame wars" As a workaround, you can close/delete the question yourself if the people want so (provided mods will be able to close announcements). – dorukayhan Feb 4 '17 at 20:22
  • 1
    Considering the types of powers entrusted to site moderators, e.g., revision redaction, editing the profiles of other users, using the [announcement] tag seems to pretty tame. Avoiding it's use because of potential "mod abuse" claims seems overly meek. I know I've been accused of "mod abuse" for many normal moderating actions: from deleting obsolete comments to suspending users. Am I to avoid these actions because of the possibility of further accusations? – user642796 Feb 5 '17 at 7:15
  • @dorukayhan That is a possible workaround, and one that I'd certainly be willing to use, if there was a consensus as such. – HDE 226868 Feb 5 '17 at 23:46
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    "as a side effect of an announcement" - It's not a side effect; it's a feature. This feature is probably the very reason this tag was created. – Fermi paradox Feb 15 '17 at 17:20
18

Disclaimer: I did not notice nor see nor take part in the discussion that was mentioned in the comments. This answer is merely coming from me as a user and my experience based mainly on German.SE, Chemistry.SE and Travel.SE.

I disagree with being made a mod-only tag

And to be even more specific, it is supposed to become a company-only tag. The way the top post (‘question’ — but this is meta, it doesn’t have to be a question) is worded, this sounds like it is supposed to be a one-way channel for the SE staff to transfer information to the userbase. That in itself is fine; as the top post notes there are numerous posts all across the different site metas (and here) that do so. Mostly, they are labelled with in lieu of a better tag.

But quite frankly, aside from those posts here on meta.SE (the centralised meta site) these employee announcements have been — thankfully — few and far between. In fact, quite a few ‘announcements’ that would have been very important for the respective community were not even made on the site’s meta by the team — instead, in the case I am thinking of most, it was a moderator who accidentally happened to frequent another related site where the ‘announcement’ was made in a comment or answer. This moderator then continued to post on the site meta.

Thankfully, your proposed solution would have allowed that user — since they have a diamond — to add an tag to their question. But what about others? Say it had been me — no diamond anywhere — who had experienced that? The correct course of action would have been:

  1. post

  2. tag as

  3. flag for mod notice

  4. wait for a mod to add

  5. live in the constant fear that it may be removed as I am in no way affiliated with SO, the company.

Or maybe:

  1. contact the mods via chat

  2. wait for them to post the corresponding post

But why? that is overly long. Information concerning the community should be rolled out immediately and not go through arbitrary waiting periods.

Furthermore, oftentimes and in all metas I frequent users post ‘reminders’. For example to remind people that they should take a second to look at the spelling and punctuation when editing tags. Another example would be the series on Meta.Chemistry.SE called ‘mind the buzzwords’ — reminding people that certain buzzwords are not good in titles because they are not descriptive; and that those titles should be edited. Again, the chemistry buzzwords series is now run by a moderator but in earlier days the user was an ordinary user.

The additional privileges associated with as per your post are not needed

I get the point of the notice which is saying ‘this is coming directly from the SO team.’ But that notice can (and probably should) be added to the system separately. Moderators are already able to apply notices to posts, e.g. stating that an answer requires sources or is low-quality. I think that the announcement ‘this post is by the SO team’ should be one of those — it remains in the hands of moderators, it is displayed prominently at the correct point and it can contain the text you needed.

I have a very big problem with this paragraph:

In addition, questions with this tag can't be closed, deleted or flagged as spam or abuse.

It is a general principle of the sites that all users who have reached a certain reputation level get all the powers associated with said reputation level unless they have done something worthy to lose these powers (i.e. get banned) — although the ban seems to be temporary in practically all cases. Thus, you are generally trusting us all — experts and non-experts, informed laymen and merely curious laymen — on making calls about whether something is a good fit or not, whether it should stay or get removed.

And suddenly, just because you (the SO team) wrote the post, this should change? Suddenly, there are posts that, please excuse the comparison but that is what it sounds like, were written with the Divine Right of Kings Stack Overflow, the Company? You are completely removing the community’s ability to say ‘this post is not a good fit here’ or ‘this post is promoting a service without being asked for’?

Separation of power is a fundamental and well-established principle of democracy. Democratic societies — and I consider the SO network to be one — build on the fact that nobody is above the law and nobody’s actions are infallible. Many a time have legislative or executive decisions been examined by the judicial power — sometimes resulting in approval, sometimes not. The close vote and flagging system is the SE equivalent to judicial power. It is community-driven and community-moderated.

Questions that wrongly acquire close votes get comments added why they should not be closed. Questions that are closed while part of the community disagrees gain reopen votes. This system is not infallible, both the community itself and the diamond moderators act as an instance of appeal. I have yet to witness an example where the community-driven process did not end up doing the right thing. Of course, sometimes opinions differ. If that is the case, there will not be enough votes to perform the decision the majority perceives as wrong. I have been on the wrong side of decisions a few times and while I may have been unhappy, in the end I shrugged it off. Democracy is the key.

If you, SO the company, do not trust us, the SE community, to make the correct calls (‘do not close’ if a post is on-topic, ‘close’ if it is not, ‘flag appropriately’ if it is spam/abusive, ‘do not flag’ if it is not) and even more, if you do not trust the site’s diamond moderators to make the appropriate appeal calls we have a big problem. Or, to put it in a different way, this would no longer be my site.

You seem to fear this may happen. Please back your anxiety with data. How many announcement-type posts have SO employees made, how many and — most importantly — which of those were closed, flagged as spam, flagged as abusive, gained delete votes? If that number is greater than 0 (reminder: I did not witness any to date on any site I frequent) try to ask why the decision was made, reach out to the community, discuss with us, before deciding that that may not happen.

would be a great addition to , , or , but not in the way you propose

I highlighted above that announcements do happen on all site metas and that in most of the instances I witnessed they did not come from the SO team. Currently, they are labelled with the required tag because it is the only one that mildly fits. These announcements are okay on meta sites. ‘Questions’ on meta do not have to be questions. By the way, this also applies to things that do not fully fit announcements: a very helpful post on Meta.Travel.SE is a dupe target collector in which a number of good questions have been collected that may be helpful in determining whether something has been asked before.

posts do not have to receive any special protection. There have been cases of close votes being dropped on meta sites for unclear (the close vote dropper meant ‘what is the question here?’). All reviews were completed with three leave open votes, to the best of my knowledge. This, in my opinion, proves that the community is able to distinguish between posts that are within their meta’s scope or not.

Adding as a required, but open-for-everybody tag would be a great thing to have; it would allow all users to tag their announcements appropriately. Naturally, the SO team would also have access to this tag and could use it if need be. Mistags are easily cleaned up by those with the editing privilege — at least, I have yet to see a meta post that kept blatantly wrong tags for a long period of time.

Even if the SO team feels that they need a special, mod-only pink tag to signify ‘this post is actually one by the company’ (remember: I think a notice and ing would suffice), this can easily be another different pink tag. However, it will likely be superfluous on practically all sites, so maybe it should be restricted to those the SO team actually talks to on a somewhat regular basis. (But then again: having an unapplied tag hanging around does not hurt the system.)

Whatever you do, it is best kept until a few weeks or months later!

As you saw in the disclaimer, I did not witness any drama happening, but another answer and numerous comments have shown me that there was recent drama. I would propose to let the entire issue rest until the drama has fully cleared up. One week is not an adequate timescale for drama to die down, the entire thing should be stalled for at least four from the onset of drama or two from the end of drama, whichever is longer.

If any new drama arises during that time, please stall the implementation further.

‘Six to eight weeks’ has become a somewhat running gag here as far as I could witness. Nobody will be upset if an implementation takes six to eight SO weeks.

Conflicts of interest

The author declares the following conflicts of interest:

  • The author has posted quite a few type posts on all meta sites they frequent.

  • The author has received close votes on type posts they wrote. (However, no questions were closed as such.)

  • The author declares not to be involved in any of the discussion that seemingly happened elsewhere on the network. However, the author reserves their entitlement to an opinion as to whether the author thinks certain posts are on or off-topic for certain meta-sites.

  • Regarding your (valid) concerns about the addition of the tag taking so long: I think the best solution would be to contact a mod long enough before posting the question, so that as soon as you ask it, they can apply the tag. – HDE 226868 Feb 4 '17 at 19:34
  • @HDE226868 Most of the times I wrote an announcement it was about something that I noticed in the seconds before I visited a meta site to start typing, so … – Jan Feb 4 '17 at 20:16
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    We don't need meta questions to be questions. For that purpose we don't need a new tag. – Helmar Feb 5 '17 at 8:47
15

tl;dr. New required (not moderator-only) meta-tag? Sure! The side effects? No!


The more I think of this, the more misguided I think this is. I've gone from pretty on-side with this proposal to finding myself against it. This is obviously in direct response to Joel Spolsky's Time to Take a Stand post on Meta Stack Overflow and its aftermath. Any attempt to claim otherwise must rely on alternative facts.

About the only pro I can think of about this proposal is having a specific tag for those instances where a "question" on meta doesn't actually ask a question. Examples of such include site election announcements, pro tempore moderator announcements, and new site feature announcements. These sorts of posts unquestionably belong on meta, and as they are fairly frequent it is probably worthwhile to have a required meta tag for them. Even including an automatic "post notice" along the lines of

This is an announcement concerning $SiteName and its community, and doesn't request any specific feedback. Even so, feel free to leave a comment or an answer.

doesn't go too far to make clear the unconventional purpose of the "question". It's not unheard of for moderator election results announcements to be closed.

From this point on I have to disagree with the proposal.

Announcements should still be subject to community moderation. Even if close-votes are futile because the powers-that-be will use their infinite supply of reopen votes, it is one way for community members to speak their displeasure about the appearance of posts in their communities they deem off-topic. The furthest I would go along these lines is to disable specific close reasons, such as "unclear what you're asking," for the simple reason that these posts do not purport to ask anything.

And the idea that certain users are above reproach (which is the whole rationale for disabling spam and rude/abusive flags on these posts) reeks of elitism that is decidedly against the ethos of Stack Exchange. We are supposed to judge posts and behaviour, not people.

With this proposal Stack Exchange is taking a clear step away from community moderation and towards centralised control. This is a slippery slope that I fear will not end well.

In the aforementioned brouhaha SE employees actually had to acknowledge the not insignificant displeasure with the post every time one cast a re-open vote. With this catalyst in mind, the side effects of this proposal (where "side" is used quite loosely) appear to simply spare SE the time and effort of actually having to defend and maintain these rare (for now) controversial posts. Sad.

2

I do think that having a new tag would be handy for users to find announcements posted by the Stack Exchange team easily.

I've thought of this idea and posted it as a (now deleted) , Allow moderators to prevent a post from being closed. With regular updates for Documentation and Jobs, it would make it much easier and convenient for users find the posts.

Personally, I find it very frustrating to search for an announcement/ update, especially for Documentation, and as a "workaround", I created an index for Docs updates, Index of Documentation update announcements. Many of the times, I would recall coming across a specific announcement before and wanting to revisit it, but just couldn't remember the exact title.

Some have argued that it's a "duplicate" to the tag, but I do not think so. The tag can only be used temporarily while this new tag can be tagged to a question indefinitely which is a really useful feature IMHO.

However, the only concern I have is that it should not be used for questions mainly to prevent it from being closed. Discussion questions should remain unprotected and tagged with the usual tag.

In conclusion, I would support the tag if it's used exclusively for updates to Stack Exchange's products and services.

2

It's kind of odd to post an answer trying to talk about other answers and the question at the same time.

I'm not taking into account the political context, and the rather vocal unhappiness of a subset of users (major or minor) yet.

As a moderator, who has had to work around things in the past, this would be handy. I do think that, as rand has suggested, 'adjusting' the wording as appropriate and opening up to situations like he's mentioned (or the tag cleanup weekends I ought to run a little more often than once in 2-3 years) would be handy. There's so many uses outside political PSAs that it's a little sad to see so many of the answers focusing on Joel apologizing over "How do we make sure this is used appropriately, and when"

Some stuff just doesn't work as Q&A in the traditional sense.

Ages ago, before a lot of the current changes, we used to have this diagram for what the vision for SE was on their about pages.

Jeff's Euler diagram about the inspirations for the SE model

While things have changed a lot - a lot of folk would be annoyed if you called our sites a forum - something like this fits into the original vision of SE. Things like the recent changes posts or announcements of major policy changes would make more sense as announcements, and the tag would help with finding these.

As for all the argument about whether SE should be making political statements

I don't know. It's essentially become something that's a public good, and let's be frank here. We wouldn't be complaining about such things in a less democratic environment or one we were less engaged in. Anything more doesn't really belong to the scope of the answer.

  • 3
    We wouldn't be complaining about such things in a less democratic environment or one we were less engaged in. - So, you're saying that the mere fact that we could live in an undemocratic society means that nobody should complain if SE jeopardize their site? – Mathias Müller Feb 5 '17 at 17:04
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    Naw, people would ban you and tell you to go away. Rather than bothering to engage you. Or people would walk away, rather than engaging in constructive discourse. – Journeyman Geek Feb 5 '17 at 22:20
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    Yes, announcements would be handy. But I don’t believe that announcements need the protection (can’t be closed/flagged) that the question proposes. – Jan Feb 5 '17 at 23:40
-4

I've found there's 3 camps on the issue

  1. SE should never be used for political speech
  2. SE should only engage in political speech if it's necessary
  3. SE is fine for political speech

For #1, it's really impractical. Joel Spolsky (and his corporation) foot the bills around here. They should be free to use the platform they helped to create to make whatever speech they want. The American Constitution sets free speech as its first priority and that priority exists to make sure people can make speech you don't like. There's a great Ronald Reagan quote that fits here (I'm sure Mr Spolsky's head will explode at that comparison)

I am paying for this microphone!

If you don't like it, stop supporting SE. Make your own SE (with blackjack and hookers for good measure). Rant about it. I hear all the blowhards cool kids use Twitter and Facebook. There's email. There's a LOT of ways to voice your displeasure and/or go get tech help. Joel Spolsky is paying for this microphone and, for better or worse, he can say whatever he wants. There's literally nothing you can do about it.

Let's just say that #3 only belongs on Politics.SE and leave it at that. Because if you want to know what happens when you do this on a larger scale, there's a website that already does. It's not pretty.

That leaves #2. This tag at least lets you filter it out. A way to say "Hey, we're using our microphone over here!" I think it's a fair compromise. But let me give a shout out to the #1 camp here...

SE tries to avoid political discussions precisely because of the mess that was caused here. Instead of calm, rational debate, there was a lot of open political ranting. Now, again, Joel can do as he pleases, but SE is a site that tries to rise above that fray. Not even Poltics.SE allows that kind of posting. But you can't exactly call those posts out when the CEO himself is inciting it.

In other words, Joel can do as he pleases, but he does so at the potential detriment of the community. He can pay for a platform, but he can't make people use it. As long as it's limited and rare, I don't see this as a major issue (and I don't agree with Mr. Spolsky on a great many political things). As always, the devil is in the details. Any hand can be overplayed. I say the same thing here that I've told people about Trump: give it a chance. Don't criticize it until it goes wrong.

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    Just because there is no legal recourse for SE users to register their complaints in any way more binding than simply deleting their accounts doesn't mean they should shut up and mutely accept whatever SE decides to do. The fact that they can still legally choose to override objections is no reason not to make those objections. And if they are intending to do something a large portion of their userbase feels is counterproductive, well, they are certainly permitted to make foolish decisions (SE is not even publicly-traded), but that doesn't mean no one can disagree with them. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 5 '17 at 5:04
  • @NathanTuggy that comment seems like a wholehearted support of everyone, well taking a stand ;) – Helmar Feb 5 '17 at 8:56
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    @NathanTuggy I'm not saying you can't voice your displeasure. I'm not even saying you can't argue for #1. What I'm saying is that nobody at SE has to take that into consideration. Some people are convinced that there's some law, or even a SE rule, that has been violated. Joel owns the servers. If he orders them turned off, no more SE. Period. The only way for a user to truly protest this is to stop using SE. If the network traffic drops then ad revenues drop, as does Careers revenue. I don't think they would ignore a significant portion of their users leaving. – Machavity Feb 5 '17 at 14:10
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    1) The amendments (or maybe addendum) to the American Constitution make freedom of speech their first item. The Constitution itself makes justifying its own existence its first priority ("...in order to form a more perfect union, ensure...") 2) That Bill of Rights has nothing to do with this situation. – Josh Caswell Feb 5 '17 at 15:05
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    imgs.xkcd.com/comics/free_speech.png Joel can do as he pleases yes, that was made abundantly clear over and over. Few dispute it. His success and profitability are wholly dependent on the free content donated and the ongoing tedium of shoveling the crap that rolls in day after day. People had been inculcated into thinking that polishing the crap gave them a stake/say in how the site operates. That illusion is now vanquished. – Ňɏssa Pøngjǣrdenlarp Feb 5 '17 at 21:15
  • @Machavity: I suspect we violently agree on most points and are just differing over emphasis; certainly no one can expect others to always accept their reasoning, however sensible it seems to them, and it's wise to cultivate a spirit of accepting that others, for good or bad reasons, may just disagree. That said, in a case where there does seem to be some strong potential for ignoring rational arguments, re-emphasizing the necessity of patience when others seem to ignore arguments is not the first priority. Instead, it's better to work to ensure that rational arguments aren't being ignored. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 5 '17 at 22:37
  • @NathanTuggy I think you're right, in that we probably agree a great deal. Good discussion. – Machavity Feb 6 '17 at 0:57
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    "Don't criticize it until it goes wrong." This is the fourth time, at least, that the company has used this platform to promote something that many thousands considered off topic, if not outright offensive. SOPA may be in the clear, but then we also had Steve Job's death announcement, the logo change on a supreme court ruling, and now the immigration rant. It's clearly already gone wrong, and all they're doing is institutionalizing the wrongness - the biggest thing they've learned so far is that if they're going to keep doing this they have to change the policy - they are. It's still wrong. – Adam Davis Feb 6 '17 at 17:29

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