I'll jump in here.
But it cannot be denied that these kinds of things foster a fundamental division. It encourages people to think about things in terms of "new users vs. established users". And it is precisely this sort of mentality, this kind of division, that we are often accused of having.
Can we talk about that for a second? I'd like to point out how awkward it is. When we come here (and most child meta sites) we're talking to people who typically aren't causing the problems that we're trying to solve. The fact that we found a need for an indicator is a big clue there, why didn't we just write a post that said "Please be extra careful when dealing with new users?" Because the people that would most benefit from that guidance, for the most part, don't come here.
Yet, we still need to announce it, and we still have to write communication for broad audiences that occasionally glance at things here when they show up in the community bulletin. I therefore can't write things like "this mostly doesn't apply to anyone with the ability to downvote here" without really weakening our stance, and we need that stance to be strong.
Our attrition rate is concerning.
New users just don't stick around anywhere close to how they did a few years ago. I'm not going to post the exact rates, and I'm not going to post the exact metrics that we use to consider someone 'lost' as far as likely to re-engage, but I will explain it in very simple terms.
Let's say you have a bank account. Every month, $1000 goes into that account, and $960 goes out of it. You will never lose your income, and your expenses will always stay the same. Sure, you don't manage to save much, but year over year, it adds up, right?
Well, what happens if the income isn't infinite? Let's not talk about money, let's talk about users, the size of the market that we serve, and the rate at which it grows and replenishes. If we lose even 25% of the users we manage to convince to interact with our sites, and the number that try every day keeps going up exponentially, then it's only a matter of time before we burn through an entire market faster than that market significantly replenishes itself.
This is because people had really bad first experiences, and depending on how influential they are, we've lost them and possibly dozens more. It's difficult to calculate who won't try something because of this. But if we don't control this rate, we could (much sooner than later) say that the whole market uses, has tried and stopped using, or won't try our sites.
That is to say, there's a hard stop where you run out of people that are (1) interested in [topic] and (2) successful using your software, and the faster you hemorrhage new users, the faster you approach that point. This is where new users don't replace long-term engaged users that tend to just naturally move on after they've done all they came here to do. This "shrink" in communities is perennial and usually healthy, as long as you eventually move to more coming in than leaving.
This isn't because we should have shipped an indicator long ago.
This is because our new user experience is awful. It's bolted together with pretzel sticks, there are tons of rules that the UI doesn't help people discover, key information isn't in places where people tend to look for it and for the better part of three years, we didn't do a thing to fix that. That's squarely on us, not you. We mostly left it up to you to figure out how to solve problems without being able to rely on us to make changes to the software, or watch for patterns in suggested changes that indicated we had deeper, systemic issues we had to fix.
There's a lot that we should have done a while back. We're doing it now, and it's going to take a ton of time to complete. But this indicator? It's something that we think can make a difference and get out the door relatively quickly. And when we announce that sort of thing, we need to speak to everyone, we can't wink and say "not you folks sitting in the back" because as much as you need to hear that we're putting significant resources into this, folks that we hope this will help also need to see us taking it very seriously. I don't think there's a balance here; I think it's just not possible to do enough for both cases concurrently while still working on it responsibly.
It's not creating a division, we're just addressing it.
New users are often treated poorly. There's already a division and us refusing to admit that is like sticking our heads in the sand.
If someone has at least one good experience early-on, they tend to be much more willing to prioritize the whole over their own immediate needs, and much more likely to become longer-term contributors. We're not asking more from folks (and we'll take care to be more explicit), we're asking less. Don't leave that borderline-trollish comment, don't pile on down votes cathartically, don't blame the poor person for the downfall of society at-large (even though it's tempting!) If anything, it's a reminder to not engage much unless you're feeling charitable.
But it's not creating a division, it's just one immediate step we could take in embracing that new and seasoned contributors live in two different places, and we need a much better bridge between them.
And it's just the right thing to do.
I talked about business goals and scenarios and markets and all that crazy manager-y stuff I never dreamed I'd be looking at here. We didn't really notice these trends until we really dug into the welcoming project, because all of our graphs kept going up and to the right. We didn't know what we weren't measuring.
As a business I think we could do quite well if we worked to become even more exclusive than we're currently perceived:
- We'd spend a lot less time talking about this
- Quality would go way up without any additional investment
- Our jobs stuff would be legendary
- Ad spaces would always reach people that made lots of money, and probably made or at least influenced decisions at their company
... and when we all got older and retired, the ~5000 of us left could hang out with Joel on a private island (I have no idea if Joel has an island, or even likes islands, he could hate sand for gross reasons so I won't go into that) but you get the point.
We're into generation(s), now.
Since we started in 2008 there's roughly two more graduating CS classes and countless self-learners trying to just become one of us, and somehow we got into a tailspin cycle of them trying harder, us making it harder, and them trying even harder. I firmly blame us because we did lose focus on Q&A since all the graphs went up and to the right, so we thought we could.
So while I can give 20+ great business reasons to care about this all of a sudden, the biggest one is just realizing we done goofed, and working to fix that. And yes, the most highly visible changes we make in that stride will seem aimed at new users.
That's while we do a total product overhaul that (even now) looks like 2+ years of UX research alone before we're close to done, and that's assuming we don't make any major product changes in the interim.
I've publicly said we made a big mistake by losing our focus, and that it would be really crappy of us to come back and nitpick at the way the place was run by people that cared while we were off building mousetraps. If I need to put that in a more public place, I'm happy to do it.
But this is all about making sure we sustain and continue to thrive, while we fortunately still have plenty of time to make changes. It's about acknowledging that we have vastly different experiences, and that we need to work on it, and building bridges immediately to help it.
But thanks for calling it out, I didn't realize I had so much I hadn't said about it until I read your post. I hope you'll forgive my lack of brevity, frankness and scatterbrain - I have my hands in lots of things and they all sort of intersected here.