Last week we rolled out the new network theme to several sites. Some of these sites had beautiful designs previously and now have a less striking look. Unsurprisingly, the response to these changes has been somewhat very negative. Even before Joe posted our master plan back in March, this has been the stage I've dreaded. Nobody likes losing things and the new theme is a clear loss for the "Cadillac" sites. It doesn't help that some of the changes have revealed bugs in the framework. It really doesn't help that we are pushing forward even though many people strongly disliked aspects of the mockups.

Pointless Design Change Managing Moving Cheese

(Creating parody book covers has proved cathartic.)

I feel pretty strongly that insulting employees (particularly the designers who made the changes) is both counterproductive and morally wrong. Telling us we aren't listening seems unfair too. (A classic read on this subject is Kathy Sierra's "Listening to users considered harmful?".) Quitting the site over the new design seems extreme, but I respect people's values and recognize they aren't necessarily my own. Meanwhile, we appreciate detailed bug reports.

In between we see criticism with varying degrees of utility for us. For instance, we already know people don't like the new left bar. It's a central motivation for imposing the framework on sites and won't really prove it's worth until we are able to add features such as custom question list notifications to it. I personally am withholding judgement until it's on all sites so that I stop having to switch context when looking at another site.

I don't really know the best way to critique design changes, but I'd like to provide a few suggested criteria when answering announcements of new designs:

  1. Avoid absolutes—"This is the worst design I've ever seen," might describe how you feel, but is demonstrably not true. (For clarity, I'm talking about BuzzFeed's design, but the 20 sites featured in the article are pretty bad too.)

  2. Analyze the root problem—If you don't like some aspect of the design, try to answer the question "why?". Maybe the new color scheme doesn't work for color-blind or visually impaired folks. Or maybe they remind you of your alma mater's crosstown rival. Either way, explaining the real problem is more productive than "the colors suck".

  3. Consider waiting a bit—How many times have you seen a website you use every day make some change to their UI that's really jarring but isn't a problem a week later? I really hate change, but it doesn't take me long to acclimate to it.

  4. Try rephrasing rather than rehashing—We probably read the answer posted on another question, so there's no reason to repeat it verbatim. Meanwhile, rephrasing the criticism can often help. For instance, sometimes a CM will suggest a change to a design before we show it to meta, but the designers and developers go forward with their own idea. Once we show it to you, the community of users, the same issue (phrased in a new way) might come up and the design gets fixed based on that feedback. I'm not offended; I'm happy we can get the best design.

  5. We're benevolent benevolent dictators—We've always been up front and forthcoming about new revenue streams especially when they drive major changes, and we try to communicate as far in advance of anything big as possible. That we don't decide to change course based on feedback isn't a symptom of not listening to it, but the animosity that this seems to create might be a symptom of us not communicating clearly enough. We'll try to do better, but please don't default to the worst scenario. It can mask sincerity and rob it of the consideration some complain we're not delivering. We're human, too, and very invested in this along with you, so 'jabs' certainly don't help and often honestly hurt. Jabs come in many forms, but implying that we're doing something for hidden reasons makes your feedback difficult to internalize or act upon.

Now might be a good time to say there are things I don't like about the designs myself:

  • I think the left bar should be collapsible for users who don't like it.
  • It's odd that arrow buttons and tags aren't customizable.
  • I'd like to see a larger set of fonts available to sites.
  • It's sad that really great designs (Judaism and Worldbuilding are two of my favorites) will be toned down and lose most of their character.
  • Responsive design is nice, but it's not enough to make the changes worthwhile.

Now I trust Joe and his team to iterate on their work and make things better over time. (Though it's impossible to please everyone, of course.) And I'm excited for all the sites living with super generic designs that will get some level of customization. In the years to come, having a standard framework to aim for will allow us to roll out new features to the network with much less friction. So as much as I dislike the current state, I'm confident things will get better.

I understand if you don't see things the way I do. Over the years we've had a rough history of ignoring user feedback and leaving projects half-finished. The only way we can win back trust is to do better each day. You can help by providing actionable feedback.

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    "Quitting the site over the new design seems extreme" I recall people claiming to abandon Stack Exchange due to the new Code of Conduct, not by the changed design. If people are leaving because of the design changes, I wonder what they were doing here in the first place... – Mast Aug 13 at 5:25
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    @Mast: I expect the design is the last straw. If you are already feeling unheard and we proceed to make the site notably worse for you in spite of protest, it's not surprising that you'll feel even more unheard. At some point, enough is enough, I suppose. – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 5:29
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    Fair enough, but doesn't that indicate it's not about the design change? Is this a thread about the design change or about how to improve communication about change between the Powers That Be and the userpopulation? – Mast Aug 13 at 5:38
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    I just want three things: 1. for there to be more testing on IE11, 2. for logged-out users to be able to hide the left bar or unstick the top bar, and 3. for the error messages (404, error, and captcha) to retain their unique charm, by allowing the image to be configurable per site, rather than unique across all sites. – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Aug 13 at 5:38
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    Also, I do not acclimatize well to newer computer program or site designs. I still find myself sticking with an older version of a program from time to time because the newer version changed its UI or removed a feature. Even today, in 2018, I find myself using Office 2003 at times because I prefer its customizable menus and toolbars over the ribbon. – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Aug 13 at 5:41
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    @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog: Ah yes. The exception pages seem like an ideal place for a community to show a little character. I can see not wanting to commit to making new images for sites just getting a design. But why take them away from sites that already have them? Maybe this will be a future concession? – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 5:47
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    @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog: A big part of the problem with the old designs is they weren't a theme (or skin) in any meaningful way. Each was lovingly created by a talented designer without many guidelines or restrictions. It's possible we'll create some more elaborate theming elements to reproduce some of the old sites' characteristics, but I can't make any promises at all. – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 6:01
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    Don't forget that most of your user base don't care about your need to have an unified design. They only visit one, maybe two sites irregularly. There is nothing to win for those users. – rene Aug 13 at 6:20
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    @rene: That's an excellent point we seem to have lost in the shuffle. My hope was that we'd have some features to show the value of the new design as we rolled it out to new sites. Unfortunately, that's not how the timing worked out. If you don't care about responsive design, this has little to offer at the moment. – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 6:39
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    @JonEricson It's appreciated that you don't make these promises. In fact, as an SE employee it would be better you wouldn't even mention that possibility when it has a high chance of inspiring false hopes. There is zero incentive for SE to add back theming once it has already been stripped away after months. The only time to make things survive is now. Not petition for a design revival in a year. – Christian Rau Aug 13 at 9:01
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    When will WorldBuilding.SE get a first Mockup announced on their meta? We really love our robot and are very interested in knowing what changes our site will see. As far as I can see there weren't any reactions to posts asking about this so far, but you mention that we will lose most of our character. – Secespitus Aug 13 at 9:40
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    The linked cover generator alone made this read worthwhile. – Helmar Aug 22 at 11:06
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    So: "The ignoring will continue until morale improves". – Diminutive Colossus Aug 31 at 15:55
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    So all feedback being ignored is equivalent to "everything is terrible and you are bad at your job"? I have seen a lot of well reasoned feedback be completely ignored; so it is entirely unclear what you classify as feedback that you can act on. – Diminutive Colossus Aug 31 at 18:16
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    Link more examples to be ignored? No I've learned my lesson in that regard. The only way to not be ignored is to not give feedback at all. I'm done wasting my time and energy just trying to be heard. – Diminutive Colossus Aug 31 at 18:41

14 Answers 14

You seem to be concerned about negative / not constructive feedback to recent announcements. Consider that matters of reciprocity may play some role here.

To find out if this can be related, I studied Stack Exchange features change log and counted amount of changes that looked like focused on the needs of site "core group" (users who care most).

Here is what I observed year by year:

- 2013: 14 (of total 69)
- 2014: 19 (of 82)
- 2015: 8 (of 34)
- 2016: 5 (of 41)
- 2017: 4 (of 29)
- 2018: 0 (of 23)

One particularly prominent example is a development which has been silently aborted midway:

Triage was predicated on us rewriting all of the views. Which... Very nearly happened. And then didn't.

You see, this looks like Stack Exchange team shrinks efforts on serving the needs of site core group (who are, not coincidentally, also most active at meta). And you can't realistically expect this to go unnoticed. Maybe people just feel the negligence and behave accordingly.


Can't tell for others but myself, I certainly feel it and it influences they way I act. I think I voted down most if not all announcements in last few years, even those that I felt neutrally about (having dev access to voting data you can check whether my recollection is correct if you're interested).

Worth noting that it wasn't like that in the past. Back then I was inclined to vote it up, even when the announcements were about things I didn't like. It was like I saw the SE team do various things to make it better for me, so if they are doing something I dislike, maybe this will help them keep doing other things that are useful to me, meaning it makes sense for me to support them. You see, this seems to be really about reciprocity.

Now that SE stopped doing things useful to me, I also lost interest in supporting them doing anything else - because, no matter what they do, it ain't going to help me in any way.

I'd say it is now rather opposite: since they stopped doing things of use to me, and only keep making my life harder I feel inclined to make their lives harder in return. I observe on recent announcements tens-to-hundreds of downvotes, suggesting I may not be alone in feeling like that.


Summing up, it is possible that your suggested criteria when answering announcements fall on deaf ears. The active meta audience may simply realize that SE team does nothing to address their needs, and in return, they are not inclined to help them do various things.

This would be natural wouldn't it. Jeff Atwood would probably say that losing constructive meta feedback is sad ("10% of the community feedback... have the potential to make the site clearly better for everyone...") but oh well.

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    @doppelgreener From the link title-text: thing you have to accept: Members are different than users. A pattern will arise in which there is some group of users that cares more than average about the integrity and success of the group as a whole. And that becomes your core group... (only visible if you hover the link or look at the post text in the editor; gnat should probably quote that inline) – Jeffrey Bosboom Aug 19 at 5:24
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    There is no doubt we've stopped making changes for core users and your observations about how that's gotten worse ring true to me. And we've certainly seen negative feedback on meta (downvotes being the most trivial). The result may not be what you hope for, however. Often (and more often recently) I've heard colleagues dismiss meta feedback. Nobody wants to listen to relentless negativity. Hence this meta post written in the dead of night so I can finally sleep. As an intermediary between the community and the company, I'd like to help meta feedback be less easily ignorable. – Jon Ericson Aug 19 at 15:47
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    @JonEricson Tell your colleagues that if they continue to dismiss the meta feedback, the positivity won't probably improve: the SE sites are successful because every regular user dedicates thousands of hours to the site in answering and asking questions, and taking care of the site. We have the right to be listened carefully, or in the long run you will simply lose what has made your enterprise successful (and a lot of bad ads anyway). – Massimo Ortolano Aug 19 at 17:03
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    @JonEricson thing is, this seem to be a one way street. Last few years have proven that core group can manage without dev team support. They can afford doing how they want despite their needs being ignored by dev team. Now ask yourself, whether opposite is also true, ie can dev team manage without community support? When it's about UI gimmics the answer is easy yes (or not so easy but still). But what about other things they do? Take for example recent welcoming effort, how could it go if it was ignored or even actively opposed by community (including moderators)? – gnat Aug 20 at 7:59
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    @JonEricson The ones who complain most, are often also the ones who care most. MSE and MSO have always had their share of negativity, but I think the current changes would go over better if we dropped the "welcoming" thing. The goal was to create a high-signal-to-noise resource, not to create a "kind, collaborative learning community" . I believe we should focus on the question "how to create the most useful content". Then let kindness towards new users follow from a focus on content. These two goals don't always align, but they certainly aren't mutually exclusive. – S.L. Barth Aug 20 at 14:06
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    @S.L.Barth I'd prefer it SE as a company just said, "we're changing the goal away from being a high signal to noise resource." I disagree with that but at least it'd be honest. – enderland Aug 20 at 14:21
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    @S.L.Barth I agree with that. But I think a lot of the friction is caused by SE ostensibly having the primary goal of being a high quality resource of Q/A... but acting like it's a wannabe social media site. I've more or less accepted that and found myself less frustrated with SE as a result. Course, I've always been way less involved too... so there is that. – enderland Aug 20 at 14:41
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    @ElysianFields Hanlon's razor suggests that this isn't necessarily malicious intention. Eg I can easily imagine company management being brainwashed by ideas of some "authoritative" ignorant guru in marketing. "Forget about those 10 millions visits a day to Stack Overflow, instead look at how Facebook and LinkedIn measure their success and do like they do. Engagement, engagement, engagement..." – gnat Aug 20 at 14:52
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    @JonEricson - Thank you for confirming something that I have long suspected. SE as a corporation simply doesn't care anymore. "Often (and more often recently) I've heard colleagues dismiss meta feedback. Nobody wants to listen to relentless negativity." Feedback is a gift. We may not always like that gift, but it is a gift. I am now duly noting SE's feedback to me about my feedback. – GlenH7 Aug 21 at 2:18
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    @GlenH7 that's such an insightful observation. The best feedback I ever received had fairly dismissive tone, I even planned to complain about it when I started working on it. What I did after completing this work though was opposite: I wrote email to reviewer with CC to my and their management and thanked them for great contribution to the product. And component reworked per this feedback turned out exceptionally reliable in later use – gnat Aug 21 at 7:44
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    @S.L.Barth That seems to be a simple process, then; stop ignoring what your core users are telling you. If it's relentless negativity, that should perhaps tell you there's a problem to solve, not to just dismiss it entirely. Dismissing it doesn't actually do anything but convince those same users to go elsewhere. I know I'm seriously contemplating it; I have no desire to support a company that doesn't listen to my concerns. – fbueckert Aug 21 at 15:19
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    "Often (and more often recently) I've heard colleagues dismiss meta feedback. Nobody wants to listen to relentless negativity." Lol. It's interesting that when it's a one-off negativity (like April's tweet) then your colleagues will go to hell and back to do some random outsider's bidding. (this message was written in the aftermath of the negative emotion I had while reading the message this quote comes from, sorry about it). – Félix Gagnon-Grenier Sep 1 at 18:16
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    @JonEricson re: dismiss meta feedback ding ding ding - your colleagues think that the user-base has already invested too much into the content of this site that it is impossible for them to abandon it, or that the user-base cares so much about the passion it has for these topics that it won't "cut off its nose to spite its face" - in which I'd recommend your colleagues do a bit more thinking about how quickly technology can (and does) evolve.. – Raystafarian Sep 11 at 22:45
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    It's interesting that when it's a one-off negativity (like April's tweet) then your colleagues will go to hell and back Can't help but echo this somewhat. What this recent huge multi-channel push to civility showed that things at Stack Overflow can change on a massive level and that having years of input ignored wasn't just the result of everyone being overwhelmed with work, as I used to believe. It was actually because nobody cared. I have no more charitable interpretation than this and that realization finally eliminated what was left of my will to contribute significantly to the place. – Pëkka Sep 28 at 18:40
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    @JonEricson If you don't want constant negativity, give us something to be positive about. – jpmc26 Oct 6 at 2:19

Focusing the criticism on specific employees is inherently problematic and frequently steps over the "Be Nice" line. I understand why SE often hesitates to moderate heavily in these cases where the topic is SE itself, but I think we should consistently enforce the principle that meta is about the actual issues, and not the people.

Not assuming any hidden agendas is a good policy for all of meta, but I think in this case SE seems to have failed to convince the community about their primary agenda. The redesign is about making it easier to make future changes to various parts of SE. The sidebar is also one aspect that seems to be entirely about future uses (and Teams, which most sites don't have or know about). If the drawbacks of the redesign are immediately visible, and most advantages are in the far future, negative reactions aren't that surprising.

Another aspect is that SE is throwing a half-finished design at the sites. The responsive aspects are at the minimal necessary to work, but without larger changes that would make the design truly responsive (the sidebars dominate the actual content in many cases). The left sidebar doesn't really make sense unless you know about the future plans.

Telling us to wait is kind of an unfair requirement. You're asking us to trust SE to simply fix all the problems at some unspecified time in the future. We can only give reasonable feedback for the now, not the future.

The community also doesn't seem to have a good idea about which kind of changes are possible based on feedback, and which parts are not open to discussion. That leads to the complaints that SE isn't listening to any of the feedback.

SE might have also went a bit too far in unifying the sites, especially as some unique elements that are simply images are also being unified. This didn't go over well with many people, especially as the maintenance argument doesn't seem to fit these cases. SE should either explain the reasons for this better, or allow more unique aspects for the sites.

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    To clarify: I'm not suggesting waiting for things to be fixed, but waiting to see if your reaction is based on an underlying problem or just change aversion. I'm thinking about, for instance, my visceral reaction to the last time Google changed the icons in Docs. My dislike didn't survive the day. On the other hand, the changes in Google Meet from Hangouts have not gotten better with time. – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 7:10
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    @JonEricson The problem is that this can easily delay feedback that would have been useful earlier. The best stage to still change major stuff is when the first draft of the design is ready, but not fully implemented yet. I convinced myself that my initial negative reaction to the first Skeptics design was mostly because it was so different, but that was a mistake and a much stronger push against it could have avoided a lot of issues later. – Mad Scientist Aug 13 at 8:54
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    If the left nav started collapsed, with guidance to users to click on it to get to "questions", "users", and "tags", it would probably go over better on the 173 sites that don't have Teams and for anybody using a smaller viewport. I visited a site where I don't have an account on my tablet recently and actual Q&A was less than a quarter of the visible content -- some of that was because of CoC notices and the tour, but a lot of it was from left nav and right nav both having fixed widths, so Q&A only gets the leftovers. That feels wrong and I've tried to express it before on Meta. – Monica Cellio Aug 13 at 17:54
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    @JonEricson For some things, you just know that you'll hate it forever. I still miss Google Images' original layout that didn't even need JavaScript, where there were fewer images per page and the images were smaller, with actual text underneath. Despite however long it's been out, I still hate it, and I knew I would from the beginning. For many people, this could very well happen with Stack Exchange. – forest Aug 19 at 9:45

I think I am one of those who have been implied by the calling out names on the staff etc. And yes I did and I would like to mention why I insist on it.

Let's try your way of putting things:

Nobody likes losing things and the new theme is a clear loss for the "Cadillac" sites. It doesn't help that some of the changes have revealed bugs in the framework. It really doesn't help that we are pushing forward even though many people strongly disliked aspects of the mockups.

OK why do you insist on a terrible design then? Did you explain why you chose this way of design where lots of users spent ridiculous times to tweak and polish over the years? That's a clean no. For clarity again, we are not loosing anything. It's just a website we enjoyed creating a community and we(not just me others have spent more than me) spent ridiculous amounts of time to fix the answers because of your internal mistake caused. What kind of help did you offer? Well read it yourself

Double backslashes disappear from code

Tens of users fixed it themselves by using Data.SE and going through writing scripts etc. which you could have done it in a few hours with the scripts that everyone else provided. So we know a thing or two how to handle the site ourselves thanks to your zero contribution.

Let's have a look at what Taryn said

Double backslashes disappear from code

I wouldn't say that we're refusing to fix anything, we've got a huge backlog of projects and items in the queue that also have attention. It's fantastic that the community has been taking time to fix up these issues, and yes, we'd like to get something implemented to make this easier we just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Did you implement anything? No. Thus you might think that you are caring for the communities etc. but yeah let's skip that shall we?

I feel pretty strongly that insulting employees (particularly the designers who made the changes) is both counterproductive and morally wrong. Telling us we aren't listening seems unfair too.

It is really strange that you invoke the fairness cards. Over the years, we have continuously complained about imposing SO rules onto other sites. And the feedback we got is your last item. We do as we please. That's pretty fair indeed.

Then comes the fairer part. You told us that you are going to roll out a new theme and asked for feedback; there you go New TeX site theme coming soon

And what kind of response did we get? You discarded all and I repeat ALL feedback. Not a single thing mentioned there was applied. Now because of the negative feedback you are starting to fix things. TeX new site theme is live How is that really fair treatment? When it comes to appraisal and communities, we are all running towards the rainbows and unicorns hand-in-hand. And god forbid we disagree with you and suddenly we are ungrateful bastards. Again I'm choosing my words carefully. This is how you treat the communities and invoke fairness. Nice.

Lastly about the design, I am an average coder who does not code for living. I don't have massive skills and I don't really hang out in SE anymore. I was procrastinating during my PhD and after that, my engagement decayed rapidly. But even I know the difference between a frontend and a backend of a website. Currently numerous sites offer dynamic theming that can do incredible customizations. A couple of title bars and some arrows are really not the greatest challenges of human endeavor. The way you explain why you need these changes is quite an insult to all the experts' intelligence you host on SO. Your design team botched this and there is no sugarcoating available for it. You could have just accepted this and redesigned but no. You doubled down on it and now you are asking for empathy. That is not how it works.


Anyways, this is my first and hopefully last meta post so here is what you could have done in my opinion (not that it matters but otherwise we are called as whiners not providing any constructive alternatives).

If you want to introduce the title bar squashed down then you could have said so.

Folks, the title bar is going to shrink vertically do you have ideas on how to make it more personalized for the site. In the meantime site names are going to shift to the left. Make your own decals and we will incorporate them.

It is this simple. And I would have worked on it because despite all of your efforts I liked to hang out there for killing time. This is what you did

We are going to trim your title bar. Deal with it.


If you want to implement a left bar you could have said so

Folks, due to reasons that we cannot disclose we are going to implement a left side bar. We might add a background that will run down through the page for it for more personalized feel. Let us know what you think and offer yours.

And that stupid waste of space could be used for a bookmark type of personalization. Judging by what they are capable of worldbuilding and rgp (or rpg?) would have done wonders. What did you do instead?

New side bar is coming.

Well done indeed.


You could have waited until you finished the details or just mention them

Folks, we don't have yet a mechanism for custom arrows. So be prepared for some regression.

What did you do instead?

Arrows are generic now.


I can go on forever. Is this really how you want to play this fairness game? Please save it for the uninitiated.

I decided to leave not because of a design which is nothing but a look on a site. But the way you treat communities which made you what you are as if children whining all the time broke the camel's back.

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    Despite the abrasive tone, I'm having a hard time disagreeing with the reasoning. It very much does not feel like the community is being listened to, in any sense. – fbueckert Aug 13 at 21:11
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    "Folks, we don't have yet a mechanism for custom arrows. So be prepared for some regression." If they had said that, people would be asking "why not" and saying "SO developers are stupid for not implementing it". Nothing would change. – Nicol Bolas Aug 14 at 17:55
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    @NicolBolas No, they would not. Regressions are a part of a programmer's life. Any programmer who thinks that causing a regression makes someone stupid has never actually worked on a big project. But simply saying "we're removing this, deal with it"? That's just in poor taste. – forest Aug 19 at 9:50
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    @forest: "Regressions are a part of a programmer's life." 1: Not every SE user is a programmer. 2: Not every SE user is a professional programmer. 3: Even among those who are, there would still be many who say that they should. – Nicol Bolas Aug 19 at 13:28
  • @NicolBolas That's true. I was talking more about SO users, not SE users in general. My point is that the overlap between those who have enough understanding to judge a regression and those who believe regressions imply stupidity is effectively zero. – forest Aug 29 at 1:12

I really like this guidance, Jon; giving constructive feedback on design changes is something I've struggled quite a bit with over the years, both as a user and as an employee of the company making the changes. It's easy to say "I don't like it", much more work to articulate why... And I've often found it nearly impossible to explain why in a way that is actually effective.

But I wanna comment a bit on the "benevolent dictators" portion.

We've always been up front and forthcoming about new revenue streams especially when they drive major changes

That's... Not quite true. At very least, it's misleading. We really, really dropped the ball on this for a couple of years while we went all-in on trying to integrate Careers, Jobs, Teams, Dev Story... Not that we didn't try - Tim in particular was instrumental in laying out our plans, repeatedly, in as public a manner as possible - but... There was a LOT of miscommunication (or lack of communication) internally, and it showed: we promised things that we didn't build, we built things without clearly connecting them to our goals for generating revenue, and we stopped building things that folks were already using without telling them anything. We didn't mean to... But we did anyway.

And we lost a LOT of trust over that. Deservedly. We didn't mean to, we didn't want to, but we did and deservedly so. If we're gonna make up for those mistakes, we gotta start by owning it: facing up to the fact that it's going to take a LOT of hard work to rebuild that trust, and explicitly avoiding the mistakes that led to this miscommunication the first time around.

Here's an example: from an end-user perspective, there are two prime motivators for this latest set of design changes.

  1. We have close to a decade of technical debt bound up in custom designs; we've had sites waiting on designs and even simple bug-fixes for years because of this - it's completely unsustainable, and so we need to fix it. What this means for end-users: standardized, well-maintained site designs, at the cost of losing some of the unique design elements.

  2. We need to support a flexible navigation scheme for Channels, which we need for the Teams product, which we need to make money, which we need to keep running servers and paying staff. What this means for end-users: primary site navigation moves to a left-hand sidebar.

We've talked extensively about both of them for at least the past year, but I think it's important to remember that while internally those two things are bound up together fairly tightly, for the average person using any given site that's not a Team on Stack Overflow they're very different.

In a sense, we are slapping a sidebar on the TeX site to make money... Even if we never intend to make any money from the TeX site. And... We should be straight with 'em about that; we've already said as much, in public, several times over the past year... Pretending it's not a factor now just makes our explicit motivates seem ulterior. And that's not building trust.

An awful lot of folks are not going to like some of these changes, at least at first. But I have high hopes that with time, this will be our opportunity to demonstrate our ability to communicate clearly, honestly, and rebuild that essential faith in our word.

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    I left a somewhat similar comment on the question, but: Is the meta-crowd, which is the group you're talking about here, even worth considering? Why would people like me be the best candidate to judge if a design is OK or a new feature you;re proposing? All I have to offer is resistance to change and lots of drama. I'm not even your core target audience, nor is anyone else that participates on meta I think. You might have lost the trust of regular meta users, have you lost the trust of your main community and isn't there a chance they are happy with the direction this is going? – rene Aug 13 at 19:15
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    I think it's important to remember that meta is our feedback site, @rene: not everyone who posts on meta is a "regular". Sure, we can ignore you, but when something hits -100 that's not just "the meta crowd". – Shog9 Aug 13 at 19:20
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    "we've had sites waiting on designs and even simple bug-fixes for years because of this" -- which also meant that when the lovingly crafted design was finally there, we grew immediately attached. And now it's being taken away (or so it feels). – Raphael Aug 13 at 21:10
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    Maybe, @Raphael - but that's hard to manage as well. We blogged about it several times (two posts linked above) and had several network-wide featured meta posts, but a LOT of folks don't read those, and even for those who do read it can be hard to gauge the final effects of changes like this until they're live. And... In a big sense, that's the crux of the matter: for folks who just use these sites, even those who use them daily, but don't care to get involved in all of the meta conversation... That last step can be a rude awakening. – Shog9 Aug 13 at 21:15
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    @Shog9 True. However, even following the discussions on Meta Stack Exchange, I am not sure myself to which extent Computer Science will change. My feeling is, not a lot (since it's one of the newer, less customized designs), but I might be wrong. Is there still no theme preview site? O.o How do you review themes internally? – Raphael Aug 13 at 21:18
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    It's not a surprise that the 'big picture' changes are driven by the need to balance the books, and I think (hope) most users can understand that some changes will always be driven by commercial reasons. There are though two big issues. The first is that the 'three column' design significantly impacts on core usability of sites. The actual content gets squeezed to the point where it's no longer workable (at least unless one has a huge monitor). That's a compromise-too-far, and is bad news for StackOverflow itself I think: if the central point of sites is damaged ... – Joseph Wright Aug 15 at 5:19
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    ... everything else is really neither here nor there. The second issue is that of where you can make money. There are today lots of network sites, and I can't be alone in thinking that very few have any direct way of making money. So their role must be as bringing people in to the network, and thus toward the ideas that can contribute to the bottom line. But that means some features will never add to not only my 'home' site (TeX, mentioned in your answer), but also the vast majority of other ones. That's to-date been reflected in the fact that StackOverflow itself ... – Joseph Wright Aug 15 at 5:22
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    ... and a small number of others has a very different design from the 'second generation' sites. Shoehorning Teams into all of the network sites, even though most will never use it, is not making any friends. Certainly for myself I've simply turned off the left nav bar: it's a total waste of screen space. So whatever you are planning, I won't see it ... – Joseph Wright Aug 15 at 5:26
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    Just to be clear, @Joseph: the plan isn't to bring Teams to TeX (or any other network sites); it's to standardize on a core theme across all sites. The fact that this core theme has a sidebar is driven by the needs of Teams on Stack Overflow. Making that usable for everyone is a critical part of any eventual success here, as even on SO it is unlikely that a majority of users will ever be using Teams - hence the need for constructive feedback on the issues folks are having with it. – Shog9 Aug 15 at 14:44
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    Given that pretty much everyone has turned off the left side bar by now - word spreads fast as @JosephWright suggests - I can't see it would make any odds to make some sites usable by default. (For all I know, maybe Teams is aimed at only users with big monitors.) I'm almost always using a 12.5" laptop screen, which is a bit big, to be honest but I couldn't get another 11.6". I don't know or much care what 'responsive design' is, but it seems pretty unresponsive to me. Three columns are always horrible. – cfr Aug 16 at 2:54
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    @Shog9 How can it be that much of a headache to have an 'off' default for one version and 'on' for another? I don't get that. The design already allows both settings. It's just a question of which is default. – cfr Aug 16 at 2:55
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    @Shog9 What the hell does that mean? If there is one thing you don't have, it's happy users. Honestly, I give up. – cfr Aug 16 at 3:28
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    @Shog9 Well, in any case, the new design and the attitude of the SE staff after its deployment do not really constitute a great advertisement for Teams. – Massimo Ortolano Aug 16 at 6:51
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    If the site is more usable with the sidebar turned off, then it shouldn't be turned on in the first place. You accept that reduced usablility to have a space to promote teams, but that doesn't make it less annoying for your users. – sth Aug 16 at 14:42
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    @JosephWright, I know it's there, and I've commented in more detail in a site meta that (a) having three hamburger menus in the top bar is not great for discoverability; and (b) that means two clicks rather than one. Clicking on the site logo takes you to the "Top questions" sorted by activity, but I also like to view all questions sorted by newest. – Peter Taylor Aug 22 at 15:11

This has been kind of a difficult issue for me, because it's the first large-scale change by Stack Exchange I've mostly opposed in my four years here, and it affects all the sites on the network. I was surprised to discover just how much I care about a little robot who lives on the side of a webpage, unnoticed by most users. And I've spent plenty of time arguing for why that robot means a lot to Worldbuilding, and the symbolism behind it.

I would be very, very proud if Worldbuilding got up in arms about the new design we're likely to have, but I would be very, very annoyed if the community did it unconstructively. I think we the mods find it easier to not get as annoyed because we've interacted with the Team a lot, and have a pretty good relationship with y'all. And even with things like this, that experience means I trust you when you talk about what you're trying to do and what your rationale is behind it. I know normal users don't have that kind of relationship or trust.

Now . . . the main point of this answer is to perhaps ask for some more communication and rationale behind certain changes, as has already been suggested, but for a different reason: Many of us on the network have no idea what this behind-the-scenes design process looks like, how it works, or what sort of changes are feasible. I have some very, very basic HTML and CSS experience, but no idea to tell whether a design change is easy or impossible. That's slightly frustrating. So when it's said that certain changes will make bug fixing easier and stuff - well, I accept that on a high level, again partly because I trust y'all, but I'm making that decision based on trust. I have no idea why those things are true.

I think that has frustrated some people; we can't see what's going on behind the scenes, and maybe we simply don't understand a lot of it anyway. Therefore, it's not easy to see what feedback is being taken into account, what the relationship is between what we say and what's done, whether suggestions are feasible, and, more importantly, why something cannot be done. So I guess I'm like a little kid giving his parents the old "But why, Mommy?" when asked why I have to eat my spinach, because I don't know how nutrition works.

Long story short . . . I think some of the current - and especially future - outrage could be tempered with a more detailed explanation of the above: why certain things are or aren't possible. That way, when someone says that the voting buttons have to be standardized, we all understand why. We're not taking it purely on trust.

Oh, and yes, some of the criticism has been way out of line. Way out of line. I'm not pleased with what I'm seeing. Making ad-hominem attacks at employees who are just doing their jobs is . . . embarrassing and shameful. I'll say that I don't like the designs, but I'll also say that I don't like that style of feedback.

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    While more communication is a good idea in general, it also has to be taken care with not losing oneself in details too much. There are many people on SE who do understand quite a deal of web development and when revealing too much you can easily get into discussions about the implementation details resulting in back-and-forth of how to do what and users telling the developers how they should "do their job" to accomplish this or that feature. That can be fruitful in measured doses, but in practice will probably just cause a headache. If they'd need help, they'd ask on SO. ;-) – Christian Rau Aug 13 at 16:49
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    For what it's worth, I hope we can keep the robots too. The way I think the behind-the-scenes is that the more customizations we have, the more things that can go wrong when we move to new sites. The designers are documenting their framework publicly. So, for instance, you can see how tags are styled. I'll encourage our designers and developers to provide more details about what can and cannot be done within the framework right now. – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 17:25
  • @JonEricson That's excellent information, thanks! I wasn't aware of that documentation; it looks really helpful. – HDE 226868 Aug 13 at 17:39
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    Love this answer. I can hear the passion behind it without being hit over the head. That said, I'll admit that I don't really understand the point about communication in this case. Sure, there might be ways in which we can improve our communication, but the volume and frequency of communication over a seven month period about these changes may just set a record for disclosure. – Joe Friend Aug 13 at 17:53
  • There was the initial blog post, and meta post 1, 2, and 3. Plus posts on individual metas. – Joe Friend Aug 13 at 17:53
  • With each stage I've attempted to request constructive feedback and be responsive where possible. I understand that each stage brought in new folks who hadn't seen the previous messages, but I always linked back to those so people would have context. – Joe Friend Aug 13 at 17:53
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    @JoeFriend: I just followed those old links and noticed that I can hide the sidebar in my user preferences. That would have been useful to recall in discussions I had last week, but I totally forgot it existed. I had assumed the collapsing sidebar feature was never implemented since it wasn't obvious from the UI. I think this is the sort of thing where rephrasing the goals and status of the design could help even if it feels like we are repeating ourselves. (That said, you are communicating more than we ever have in the past. Thanks!) – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 18:13
  • @JonEricson There was a separate post about that: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/311528/… – Joe Friend Aug 13 at 18:20
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    @JoeFriend I'm trying to figure out to say this the right way and maybe failing, but . . . I think what I mean is that even though you (and I do mean you in particular) have been awesome in communicating what's going on, the rationale for some of that stuff has been left out. So in one particular arena, I've been hearing a lot of users asking why precisely the standardization will make bug fixes easier. You've told us that, which is great, but I think people want a bit more detail there. – HDE 226868 Aug 13 at 19:36
  • Also . . . yes, you've definitely engaged with people on a network-wide level on Meta SE, and I hope it'll continue for when changes are rolled out to specific sites. I can't speak about that yet since none of my main sites have had designs explicitly proposed yet - I've just been watching in the gallery. – HDE 226868 Aug 13 at 19:37

I think there are some things the SE Team could do in order to regain the trust they've lost with what appears to be a significant part of the community. Here are a few ideas

  1. Don't say things are impossible. We're not talking about the halting program. Any site design is in principle possible. The question is developer resources and technical debt.

  2. Ask the communities what they like, rather than assuming. For example, in the post on fonts, the Christianity site gets to keep its custom font. At first glance this sounds great, most other sites would love to get custom fonts but they won't be allowed to. But the actual community doesn't like the font and has been asking for it to change. I'm sure there are many other examples.

  3. Do whatever you can to give sites character. Maybe there's something in the custom designs that really is making too much technical debt to keep. We understand. But surely there are aspects of the new site framework that open up new possibilities of site customisation and characterisation.

    So for example, when the team says that "It was a mistake that we ever allowed for those [voting buttons] to be themed" it sounds like the team thinks it was a mistake for sites to have character. It sounds like you resent our enjoyment of our little buttons. Rather than saying it was a mistake, the team could have said that they'd love for all sites to be able to have custom buttons, and maybe they will be able to in the future, but for now they have to be standardised.

up vote 31 down vote
+100

I mean... I've been suffering for several months due to the Stack Overflow theme change. Using Stack Overflow is a much worse experience for me.

There have been multiple largescale efforts for redesign and all have received fairly significant backlash.

Why?

Because few of the active users are experiencing any problems the "solutions" will "fix." And making the user experience worse for those users will result in frustration and backlash. Not to mention when it ruins something people have love and cherish (an identity).

This is even more pronounced when those users are effectively supplying Stack Overflow the company with its free labor that enables it to be what it is.

You can dress this up all you want but that is the underlying issue.

Telling us we aren't listening seems unfair too.

There's probably a reason people are doing that though.

Over the years we've had a rough history of ignoring user feedback and leaving projects half-finished.

Ah, there it is. Not much to do about that instead of doing it better now. Improvement will be noticed, but trust goes faster away than it returns. It takes time. A lot of it.

What we could do, is look more at the bright side of things. I for one am glad the base of design is getting more generic. Why? Because I remember the graduation of Code Review.

The graduation of Code Review was messy (read the full story here). The community had just about died before it rose from the ashes. Then it almost died again and... oh well, you get the point.

What I wanted to say was eventually the site graduated. Without a design. Because the backlog for the designers was so huge it took way over 6-8 weeks to get it done. The announcement for graduation was in 2014, the design went live in 2015. 61 weeks later. It took so long there was talk about design independent graduation (graduate now, get your design, colours and everything else indicating you're actually graduated later). That showed us how complicated the process of graduating was at Stack Exchange.

Anything and everything speeding up that needlessly long process is essentially a good thing. Sure, there are a couple of side effects to changes. But the intention to fix the design problem is great. This improvement is something some of us have been waiting for, for years. Literally.

Well done.

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    We had no new designs to report for 2017. Without a simplified framework, we wouldn't have been able to justify new designs ever again. Building a component library has been a major accomplishment for the design team and the new theme builds on that. – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 6:18

Since we actually managed to get ourselves a new/reworked theme changed from the original prototype, I figure it might be useful to share what we did right.

We absolutely hated the original theme Super User had - and between my meta post (which admittedly would have been better if I'd calmed down at the time) and various suggestions from the community, we ended up with a theme with only the general generic complaints.

I was actually a little more gruff/angry in my post than I wanted to be but it really came down to what we disliked (default-ish theme, specific elements), what we liked on other themes, and what we wanted, and it worked out OK.

I'd also like to point out that, well, the designer is not going to have the same grasp of a site's "uniqueness" as someone who has been on it a while will have. I admittedly hadn't thought about that, when I complained, and its probably useful if you need to put across why a specific design element is important.

I personally love the current theme we have, and it's only because we engaged and spoke up and let folks know what bothered us.

There's a few things that we did that worked great:

  1. Start complaining early: go through the mockups with a fine toothed comb. SU lost a lot of the design elements we disliked because we noticed and spoke up against them.

    • "This thing is terrible" vs. "This thing mangles up our logo"

    or:

    • "The new logo is drab" vs. "Our site identity has always been designed around a two-color logo/robot"
  2. Focus on specific design elements you dislike and explain why you dislike against them.

    We didn't like the 'filler' background on ours and explained why. I know a few sites recently complained about their backgrounds as well (though after release).

    Especially where it's an item with emotive appeal, I'd still love to have sites retain the voting arrows and tags (and I do hope once there's a solid framework for new sites, this is revisited), and at this point I still feel strongly that this should be revisited at some point.

  3. Make it clear why you want certain things.

    While it hasn't quite gotten a response yet (or a site design) - I love how Worldbuilding made a case for why Pandora and Slartibotfast should be kept. Its certainly better than anything I wrote for Super User.


Stuff that doesn't quite work...

Per-site metas have no reputation. Just... write an answer, in depth to why the current suggested themes don't work. Comments are just not the good way to do it. Getting angry isn't the best way to do it. Getting angry in comments is the worst way to do it.

Doing it after the new design is actually out kinda means folks already have it out after a consultation period. It means a lot of work getting duplicated, and there's a lot of sites to do. If you need something changed, do it as early as possible.

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    I'm glad it worked out ok for y'all. I was out for most of July and looking at what happened on meta, it seems like emotions were high, but controlled. That's commendable. Better to show your feelings directly than keep it pent up inside. I should mention that work is being done to fix some of the problems other sites have reported after the launch. These sites really are tests of the framework and the design is not set in stone just yet. Nor will it ever be finalized as long as we keep iterating on new features for the sites. – Jon Ericson Aug 13 at 6:10
  • You say "I'd also like to point out that, well, the designer is not going to have the same grasp of a site's "uniqueness" as someone who has been on it a while will have." - it makes me screeeeeam. I'm not a web developer, I'm not a frontend developer, but more than ten years ago I made a certain web application for a client. It started with a HTML prototype with 5 pages; I showed it and explained it; I improved it because of feedback. And then I built the whole thing. Client was happy. This is how you do design. I figured that out on my own without even the most basic design education. – Michael Aug 29 at 11:58
  • Well, ya. And I feel that's a core point of unhappiness - and I've actually talked about it here. I'm not a web designer either. or any sort of programmer. I just hang out a bunch of sites and talk to people ;) – Journeyman Geek Aug 29 at 12:03

Some things you can do to disarm the situation is something I learned from working in customer service a long time ago.

  1. Acknowledge the concerns of the customer. Nobody wants to be ignored.
  2. Acknowledge the customer has a point, people have reasons for what they do.
  3. Ignore the noise, listen to the feedback. Someone may have phrased something poorly, even rudely, but they may have some good advice.
  4. Don't forget your customers are customers. Every one of us who contributes to this site also contributes to the bottom line. It is the traffic and value added that contributes to the overall value of this site. Annoy people at your own peril
  5. When you tell people to leave if they don't like something, they will.
  6. Remain humble. You're point #5 "We are benevolent dictators" isn't going to win any friends or agreement and will only make the angry voices angrier. It's saying "We know better than you." and "No matter what you say, we're going to do our own thing anyway" (see 5 above)
  7. If people are telling you that you're not listening, you're not listening. (See point 2 above) This doesn't mean you have to bend to the will of every last person with something to say, but it does mean that you should openly address each issue that is brought up. "Nope, we're doing it this way" makes someone feel dismissed. "Well, we're doing it this way because..." or "While it's been suggested we don't do X because of Y we found that Z is the reason we need to". That shows that you're listening.
  8. If you think the customer is the problem, then you're the problem. If your response to complaints is to blame the complainers, you're setting yourself up for failure.
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    the thing is that, as with most internet-based companies, users (those that use your site) and customers (those that give you money to keep your site alive) are two different and separate sets. Does this means that what you say is wrong? not necessarily, but it can reduce the importance of certain aspects. – Federico Aug 14 at 7:25
  • @Federico two words. Tech Republic. – Don Thermidor_Lobster Mobster Aug 14 at 10:10
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    #8: so basically Joe Friend's answer here. – Diminutive Colossus Aug 31 at 16:31
  • @DiminutiveColossus Thank you for your contribution – Don Thermidor_Lobster Mobster Sep 2 at 15:54

Last week we rolled out the new network theme to several sites

You have sites for really educated people of many different faculties. Some of them only exist, because their users care much about graphic design.

Your »one size fits all« approach insults us. We are spending countless hours on stackexchange. You know a part of us cares a lot about the look of things. And you dare to ignore that and deliver a uniform network theme, which doesn't meet the level of our contributions.

The new design of TEX.se for example just looks cheap. As percusse writes, you neglected every single suggestion users gave beforehand.

You insulted your users and now you are giving a speech, how unfair our reaction were.

Nobody likes losing things and the new theme is a clear loss for the "Cadillac" sites.

The first step in fixing a problem is identifying the problem. Seems that you have identified the problem, so ...

It really doesn't help that we are pushing forward even though many people strongly disliked aspects of the mockups.

Uhm, ... same as above?

Telling us we aren't listening seems unfair too.

Agree, it is technically unfair because you are listening ... only to feedback that you are comfortable hearing.

For example, here I asked you for three things:

  • The need for four links to Stack Overflow on the main page.
  • Statistical data on actual usage of the left bar.
  • Moving the links from the left bar to the top as in case of Server Fault.

There have been a grand total of ZERO responses from your end. Previously, you used to delete my comments saying you will respond only to feedback posted as answers, so I did and there we go. No response at all. Maybe my answer wasn't "constructive" enough? :)

Another example, here on the same announcement, I asked you to hide the left bar by default because people who don't login (such as those coming in from internet search) have no use for it. Again, no response.

Oh, and there's the small matter of the vote score on that announcement (currently -186). Let me just say you have an unusual definition of either "listening" or "unfair".

we already know people don't like the new left bar. It's a central motivation for imposing the framework on sites ...

Translation: We asked you for feedback, we didn't hear what we were hoping to hear, so we just went ahead and did what we wanted to do anyway. Oh, and it is unfair to say we didn't listen to feedback, because you see, technically we did listen1 to feedback. We just decided to ignore it.

won't really prove it's worth until we are able to add features such as custom question list notifications to it

Sorry for sounding patronizing. I would like to introduce the development team to the YAGNI Principle.

That aside, if the goal of the left bar was to introduce this "custom list", then that is what you should have included in the first place. Would you sell a car without seats asking users to BYOC (Bring Your Own Chairs) for the time being and that the car would prove its "worth" when you add the seats next year?

There's also the possibility of the "custom list" being useful mainly on Stack Overflow and a handful of sites, but I will reserve my judgement on that until the change is actually rolled out.

If you don't like some aspect of the design, try to answer the question "why?"

Alright, here we go. With ch ch ch ch, you pulled the plug on Unicode support despite 1/6th of your sites actively needing it. Apparently, nobody figured out this would be a problem internally within the company, until someone responded to the public announcement. Why? I tried answering that question (even though that should really be done by Stack Overflow, not me), haven't figured out anything yet.

How many times have you seen a website you use every day make some change to their UI that's really jarring but isn't a problem a week later?

Let's ask a different question as well: how many times have you come across a grand party being thrown to introduce the "next big upgrade" only for users to ignore it entirely and continue using the older versions for several years?

Here's a fun anecdote: I still use Pale Moon web browser because:

  1. Drop down menu from the title bar
  2. Vertical tab bar with tree style grouping
  3. DownThemAll

Quantum (or whatever Firefox calls its latest gimmick) makes it impossible to do any one of these.

I really hate change, but it doesn't take me long to acclimate to it.

I suspect that the question of "do you have a choice?" has something to do with that, as well. Besides, it works for you doesn't mean it works (or should work) for everyone else.

We've always been up front and forthcoming about new revenue streams especially when they drive major changes, and we try to communicate as far in advance of anything big as possible.

Ok, let's talk about ch ch ch ch for a bit, which (I think you will agree) qualifies as driving major change. I don't see any mention at all about this having anything to do with any revenue stream. I do see a lot of incomprehensible technobabble, which wouldn't make much sense to anyone who is not a software developer, and even some of them will have difficulty in understanding what you are talking about.

And I'm excited for all the sites living with super generic designs that will get some level of customization.

Making all sites look more or less identical, getting rid of customizations of the vote buttons and badge icons, dropping Unicode support (as stated above) is probably "exciting" to you and you are entitled to your opinion, of course. The majority of the user community doesn't share your excitement though.

You own the company, so you are, of course, free to run it as you see fit. I humbly request that you just state that unambiguously instead of wasting everyone's time by asking for "feedback" and then ignoring it to do what you wanted to do anyway.

Lastly, "I'm just doing my job" is not an absolute defence against criticism. Even the pilot who flew the plane irresponsibly killing all 400 people on board was "just doing his job". People don't criticize you for "doing your job", they criticize you because they would like to see you do it better.


1 Supertechnically, we did read feedback.

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    I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at here. You seem to be suggesting that, if someone is not doing what a piece of feedback tells them to do, then they're not "listening" to it. Yes, they're not going to follow any feedback of the form, "Don't change anything." These are changes they need to make for reasons that they've outlined. The question is how to make those changes in such a way as to allow everyone to still get done the stuff they need to. They're still listening; just not to feedback that is not actionable. – Nicol Bolas Aug 14 at 17:41
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    I think you misunderstood my point about some sites getting more customizations. Right now 100+ sites have the beta theme from 6 years ago. (The announcement doesn't even have images anymore!) Those sites have 2 customizations: favicon (most are the site's initials) and site name. As I said, I'm also sad we're losing custom badges and voting icons, but I'm really excited for the sites that currently are "beta blue" to have some other options. It is my job to care about sites in addition to the ones that have designs. – Jon Ericson Aug 14 at 17:49
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    @Nicol Bolas If the definition of "actionable" is "what we wanted to anyway", then that is correct, of course. Go through the feedback on the ch ch ch ch (of which I have linked to two of the answers by other users). Many of those responses are "actionable". I also believe that not having 4 links to Stack Overflow on Stack Overflow, hiding the left bar by default and gathering usage statistics are "actionable". Especially the last one, because it doesn't even ask them to change anything. – Masked Man Aug 14 at 17:59
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    @MaskedMan: "not having 4 links to Stack Overflow on Stack Overflow, hiding the left bar by default and gathering usage statistics are "actionable"." That doesn't mean that not doing them is tantamount to not listening. You're basically saying that if SO disagrees with a piece of feedback, then they're "not listening". That's not a reasonable standard. Also, if the left nav is going to happen for reasons that have nothing to do with "usage statistics" (ie: teams), what's the point of gathering them? – Nicol Bolas Aug 14 at 18:03
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    @Jon No, I'm afraid I haven't had any such misunderstanding. I only gathered from the post that sites are going to lose customization and nobody likes the change. While these "beta blue" sites getting more options is certainly welcome, it need not be at the expense of other sites losing customizations. If every single site looks the same (except for a banner and maybe some colors here and there), that's not really "customization". It is also not clear why it should be this way, since changing icons is a matter of choosing an underlying image sprite, the code doesn't need to change at all. – Masked Man Aug 14 at 18:05
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    @Nicol Bolas I did not say anything of the sort. Posting 4 links to the site on its own home page is bad web design. Besides, my point is not that they didn't do what I asked, but that they didn't respond at all. I am a bit surprised the ZERO in capital bold didn't make that clear. Regarding gathering statistics, what's the point of having "users" on the primary navigation bar, along with a paywall that nobody really cares about? That's the point of collecting statistics, to improve the user experience which is what is claimed in that announcement. – Masked Man Aug 14 at 18:10
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    @MaskedMan: So "listening" means that every individual, independent suggestion must have a personalized response? That's just not a scalable idea. And while your particular ideas were not responded to, dozens of others from that very thread were either responded to or acted upon. So I'm having a hard time seeing the "not listening" thing... – Nicol Bolas Aug 14 at 18:20
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    @Nicol "So "listening" means that every individual, independent suggestion must have a personalized response?" Yes, because that is what they said they would do. "Don't post feedback as comments, post them as answers, so that we can respond to them." or something along those lines. "dozens of others from that very thread were either responded to or acted upon." Only actions that didn't go far outside what they were planning to do anyway. The badge icon customization and vote button customization specifically linked in my post have not been acted upon despite being highly upvoted. – Masked Man Aug 14 at 18:52
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    @MaskedMan: "Only actions that didn't go far outside what they were planning to do anyway." Well, yes. Again, "don't do that" is not an actionable suggestion. If they have a problem with technical debt and maintenance, telling them "don't do the thing that fixes your technical debt/maintenance problem" isn't going to be acted upon. "The badge icon customization and vote button customization specifically linked in my post have not been acted upon despite being highly upvoted." So now we're back to them having to act on them or be declared "not listening". – Nicol Bolas Aug 14 at 19:23
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    @MaskedMan: Let me put it another way. What does it take for them to be considered to be "listening" to the community while still not doing "bad icon/vote button customization"? – Nicol Bolas Aug 14 at 19:24
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    @HDE It has been 5 months now since those suggestions were put up. That isn't enough time to respond? OK, will check again in another couple of years or so. – Masked Man Aug 15 at 0:27
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    @Nicol Why does it have to be one or the other? Customization of vote buttons and badge icons isn't such a hard problem. Every other site does something similar to this (WordPress, et. al.). It is certainly not impossible to pay off technical debt while also retaining customizations. It seems we are back to "actionable" being only things they were planning to do anyway. What is the point of asking for feedback if you are going to ignore them anyway? – Masked Man Aug 15 at 0:31
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    @Nicol "They fixed the font issues." ... by dropping Unicode support despite 30 out of 174 sites needing it. Is that really a problem they could have figured out only after user feedback? That is more or less how political propaganda works, by the way. First a politician proposes a controversial law, then there is much opposition by the public, so the politician "respects public opinion" and drops the law, somehow gaining a moral high ground for not really doing anything. – Masked Man Aug 15 at 8:06
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    @Nicol "Why can't they do the cost/benefit for themselves and decide not to do it?" Isn't that exactly what I am saying? If they have already decided what they want to do, why waste everyone's time asking for feedback? I find it quite interesting that a cost/benefit analysis doesn't consider the people who would actually use the product. But like I said, if that's how they want to run the company, they are certainly entitled to do so. – Masked Man Aug 15 at 8:08
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    @NathanTuggy Just one little nitpick about that "net +2 score" remark. I posted those answers 12 days after the announcement, and they appear on page 3 when you sort the answers by age. As we all know well by now, SE voting system rewards the early answers, and the later answers only get trickle of votes.Not that I am implying my answer would have got a thousand upvotes if I had posted it first, but that's not really relevant to the point. They had kept the announcement "featured" for that long, and they did not explicitly say they would respond only to highly upvoted feedback. – Masked Man Aug 15 at 10:56

Gnat has a good point that the development focus has clearly shifted away from "tools users need" and onto "things that make us look pretty."

Haney staunchly promised a revised search feature being rolled out with Channels. Well...Channels, I mean Teams are done. Pressed, boxed, shipped, and in stores today. Search? Nowhere to be seen. We've been asking for a better search bar for years at this point. Like five. Stack Overflow is only ten years old; how can a feature that's needed a tuneup for half its life get ignored like this?

Instead we got a site redesign that's...mixed at best. Some things can be styled and some things can't (despite literally being part of the same sprite sheet (yes, I will continue to bring this up)). The available colors for the header are borderline indistinguishable from other sites. For example, PPCG (where the new theming has rolled out) looks like a meta site. Hooray, it no longer looks like a beta site...I guess...?

We've had the new default unified theme up on Programming Puzzles & Code Golf for a month and a half now and the response there has been really positive.

And from The Nineteenth Byte (PPCG's site chat):

How do I downvote a website theme?

Yeah. Super positive.

Server Fault looks freaking identical, and so does Mathematical, Photography, Tex, Unix & Linux, and Ask Different (they're all black/gray). Super User still looks like a beta site (it's blue). Ask Ubuntu is beta-but-red. Mi Yodeya is the only one that actually looks like itself.

Sure there are a couple of subtle design markings in the header, and there's a custom logo, but if I squint and step back a few paces I literally can't tell them apart. I'm awash in a sea of uniformity (and to think: someone thought these were great examples; I dare you to replace those images with their beta and meta incarnations and repost it on the blog and see if anyone notices the swap).

That's not what we wanted from the revamped site themes. Sure, we know that the full customization that used to happen was way complicated and not uniform, but what we got was...comparable to taking away the theme from sites that had themes so no one had it. It wasn't an upgrade, it was a revision to status quo: "everyone already looks like beta, so we'll just leave it like that and say its new."

Remember: "Everything is Awesome" is the theme-song to distopia.

Rocks, clocks, and socks, they're awesome Figs, and jigs, and twigs, that's awesome

Everything is awesome, including conformity, brain washing, willful ignorance, and government spying.

Stack Exchange (the company) seems to be trying to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls and put on fake smiles and repeat the mantra "everything's fine, everything's fine, everything's fine" hoping that if they do it enough, it'll come true. It won't. It never will. Not unless you address the core underlying concerns that your users have.

And those concerns are one, simple, thing:

  • We do not have the tools we need to do our jobs

Sure, it's a pretty broad concern, but it's still true. It may be a technologically challenging task, but it's still true. The search isn't good enough, the duplicate-finder search is worse (I use Google to find the things I need), I've seen moderators complain fairly regularly that "they can't just do that." I think the last one I saw dealt with a bad audit and the fact that it couldn't be removed as an audit without validating the post (which was spam) in some way (in this case, it would have cleared the spam flags).

I've also seen spam posts show up as audits where it was literally impossible for the reviewer to determine that the post was spam because the required information (e.g. six identical answers posted to six questions, all deleted) was outright hidden from them (because those other answers were deleted and if the reviewer doesn't have 10k rep, they can't see them).

Or there was this failed audit where a post was deleted and turned into an audit, but the post was actually good content, and reviewing it as such failed the audit. Only solution? Head to chat and get the attention of a 10k user or moderator to undelete it.

Which I suppose I can just sum up as "the audit system we have is terrible, everyone knows it's terrible, but nothing's ever been done to try and fix it."

This is fine

Do I need to go on?

There's a reason your users are overflowing with negativity. And it all falls right here:

Often (and more often recently) I've heard colleagues dismiss meta feedback. --Jon Ericson ♦

Ignoring your users is never the right action.

The more (generic) you dismiss feedback, the more negative the response will get. Because you're not listening, so people point out the fact that you're not listening, which gets ignored because it's so negative. It's a self-perpetuating problem.

Subtle hint: YOU AREN'T LISTENING

Are we good now? Great. Break the loop. Let's get to work making the site more awesome. Figure out what tools moderators need, figure out what in that list is feasible, build it, test it, ask for feedback, listen to that feedback, make changes, roll it out, and repeat.

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    Search is a great example of something we've worked on lately. Unfortunately, search isn't anywhere as visible as site designs. I'd hazard to guess it's only noticed when we mess up and create bugs. Only with A/B testing can we hope to see the difference and so far we haven't seen more than incremental changes. Meanwhile, we're looking ahead to more visible changes on the sites we can make once the theme is in done. – Jon Ericson Oct 2 at 23:24
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    @JonEricson Thanks for that. I mention it because its not visible, still has the problems its always had and there's been no public mention that it's being worked on. – Draco18s Oct 3 at 0:28
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    Part of the problem here is that search improvements can be difficult to validate and requires constant iteration. That said, work on our Enterprise product as produced one obvious change. In addition, we're working on custom question lists, which might help one frustration with search. The feedback we got on those features have been substantially less, um, passionate than even minor design changes. Not sure what to make of that. sigh – Jon Ericson Oct 3 at 5:02
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    @JonEricson I know for me I'm not sure what the custom question lists do. That is, I understand how they work, but I don't see a use in how I utilize Stack Overflow. As for search, I still can't find this question using the duplicate close dialog easily. what is a null reference exception isn't sufficient. – Draco18s Oct 3 at 15:03
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    @JonEricson: Folks like myself probably aren't very interested in the custom question lists feature because we already built the ones we need ourselves with bookmarked advanced searches. That's not to say it's a bad feature, or was a bad choice to prioritize, but anyone that needs it will tend to not be among the long-time vocal Meta regulars. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 6 at 17:53
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    @NathanTuggy: This is a perfect example of the often short-sighted nature of regular users. So many concerns reported on meta boil down to scaling problems. Bookmarked searches are the ultimate in "works for me™". Wouldn't it be more efficient to create a feature that thousands of people can use rather than require a small group of (exceptionally active) users to build their own tools? It shows our own failings as the designers of this system too, of course. (See also: Stack Overflow is not yet a vast wasteland. – Jon Ericson Oct 8 at 18:42
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    You're not wrong @JonEricson. It just isn't as visible as the lack of other tools is. I think one of the biggest moderation tools ever created (the spam detection and deletion botnet) was created by us, the users, skirting the line on what's allowed by the TOS (albeit sanctioned now). – Draco18s Oct 8 at 23:22
  • @Draco18s: Certainly those tools are very useful and we are grateful for them. Importantly they have addressed the scaling problem. They probably shave minutes off the half-life of spam on active sites and hours off on low-activity sites. The later is especially valuable. (That said, the system blocks ~half of attempted posts on Stack Overflow. Kinda hard to compete with that.) – Jon Ericson Oct 8 at 23:32

Criticism and disagreement versus contempt

The most important point for me as product manager and the recipient of much of the feedback (constructive and not) on various metas is how the feedback is delivered. We aren't going to agree all the time. That's okay. But how we disagree and how that disagreement is communicated says a lot about who will listen to the feedback and even who you are communicating to with the feedback.

Serendipity is amazing. The other day I was listening to a political podcast and it made this point so much better than I could.

Civil disagreement is where you want the other person to hear you and the other person to respond. Uncivil disagreement, which is contempt based, is one in which you're playing to your own audience. - Ezra Klein Show on How to disagree better

An occasional problem with comments and answers on meta is that they seem more interested in scoring points (actual and metaphorical). Instead of responding to the post, they speak to others who are equally upset about whatever product/UX change is being made. The result is that the commenter uses over the top language, denigrates the changes and or the people who made them, calls into question their abilities and shows general contempt for my team.

This approach may get up votes, but those votes don't influence the product team. A respectful argument will.

When changes occur, they will be in response to feedback that:

  • explains their perspective/use case,
  • considers available information on the motives for and goals of the changes, and
  • treats the recipient of the feedback as a valuable, intelligent and capable human being.

There are two things that the community can do that will help to combat this problem:

  1. Work to edit out unhelpful language from post.
  2. and, I like to respectfully ask you to hit the reset button on our relationship.

My team is committed to improving Q&A for you and all our users. If we can let some of the stuff from the past go and work together to develop mutual trust, then we can collaborate and make significant enhancements to the sites that you love.

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    The idea of only considering feedback that is properly formed is quite off putting. I don't have time or the will to put forth the effort to come up with solutions to the problems i see with this site, I have my own projects to complete. That shouldn't diminish the feedback I can provide. – Kevin B Aug 22 at 19:21
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    Are you sure about the "hit the reset button on our relationship" bit? For the past decade, that phrase has had some connotations that I suspect don't match your intention. – SOLO Aug 22 at 19:22
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    @KevinB: And yet . . . this is regularly what we demand of askers on our sites. And for good reason. The more roadblocks you place in front of people you are seeking help from, the harder it is them to respond productively. Our professional designers are routinely told they are bad at their jobs. I respectfully submit that's no different than a new user complaining their question wasn't answered. – Jon Ericson Aug 22 at 19:36
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    @KevinB You don't have to lay out full solutions. That's not always even possible from the "outside", as it were. "Justify your feature request" tends to get conflated a bunch here on meta with "explain how you'd solve your problem", but it's by far not a requirement for giving us feedback. – Adam Lear Aug 22 at 21:04
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    @kevinb I would go one further and say that I don't think coming up with a solution is even important (though it can be nice). I'm most interested in understanding usage scenarios and how they impact you. Put me in your shoes and you can motivate me to come up with a solution. – Joe Friend Aug 22 at 21:17
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    The approach Joe describes works. I don't always get the design change I want (nor should I expect to), but when I've explained to him what problem I am having, what I have tried to do to solve it, how that failed, and optionally my ideas for how he could solve it, I've gotten good results (most famously with the new top bar). Key to this approach is treating the person you're trying to influence respectfully, like a fellow decent human being who also wants a good outcome for users. Do we disagree on what that looks like? Sure. Can we work together anyway? Yes! – Monica Cellio Aug 22 at 22:07
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    I think one thing that's missing from this equation is that many core users are incredibly frustrated at SE's actions. I have no doubt many people started at respectful, only to be ignored, for years (see Gnat's answer here). At some point, that turns into over the top language to just have someone, anyone listen to their concerns and acknowledge them. While how you say something is important, discounting the core userbase that's been yelling for years because they're not saying it in a way you like just makes it worse. At some point, something has to give. – fbueckert Aug 23 at 13:08
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    @fbueckert It's not about what I or anyone else likes. It's about how human communication works. When you operate as Monica described it opens ears/minds. If you show contempt, then it tends to close them. Also, it might be worth realizing the many of the folks on TeamDAG are relatively new to the company. We may have a fresh perspective and an open ear. – Joe Friend Aug 23 at 15:13
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    I get that contempt invites automatic dismissal. But when you have someone still here, trying to be heard, I believe that has some merit to it; if you're trying to retain your core userbase, then listening to those people, even if you decide not to adopt their ideas, is a good idea. These are the people that still care. It's when silence falls that you know you've lost them. Communication is a two way street, and users expressing frustration and contempt signals that it's breaking down, if not totally broken. – fbueckert Aug 23 at 15:25
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    @fbueckert I hear you and really appreciate what you're saying. TeamDAG and our Community team are actively listening. We can't respond to everything (and get other work done) but we really are listening. Sometimes it is hard to hear the signal for the noise. – Joe Friend Aug 23 at 15:36
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    You realize by making a post like this you are saying "its all you SE users fault". Its a theme I keep seeing in post by the DAG team and not one part of this that admits to faults on DAG's side. If you want us to stop being on the defensive when we answer - stop blaming us. Btw, I have never and will never just put a post out for rep - I don't even care about rep - so its also insulting when you generalize meta users as doing this. – JGreenwell Aug 25 at 15:11
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    "Uncivil disagreement, which is contempt based, is one in which you're playing to your own audience." That works both ways though. Every reasonable feature request that gets turned down because "our code works that way and we don't want to change it" gives exactly the same vibes. – Masked Man Aug 25 at 17:53
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    Are you sure about that? I seem to recall having read a recent meta post or perhaps a comment where the feature was overwhelmingly opposed by the community and the response was "we don't care if you like it or not, we are going to do this anyway", albeit not using the same words, but the meaning is the same. Also, regardless of whether you have personally said this or not, the overall attitude towards user feedback from SE is contempt, when they don't hear what they want to hear. Some have even spoken about "ignoring" meta because their shiny new feature was criticized. – Masked Man Aug 26 at 8:53
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    This post is how we (SE users) can give better feedback or edit feedback to make it better for SE. There is nothing in this post on how SE itself will give better feedback to us (even if we do this). You even state that we "show contempt to your team" and we "seem more interested in scoring points" (rep or points, I personally don't care about them and have never posted unless I had something to actually say). Yes, I saw occasionally but when this is the type of response we see, repeatedly, that is blame and it puts us even more on the defensive and loses more trust. – JGreenwell Aug 26 at 14:43
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    @JoeFriend How long was it between when the "new contributor" banner was announced and it rolling out live? Here's a hint: the announcement had mixed response (58% up, 42% down), highly upvoted "why?" or "it needs work" replies, and other criticism and yet five days later there's evidence of it being live. Sure sounds like "like it or not, we are going to do this anyway" to me. – Draco18s Oct 2 at 17:48

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