Stack Overflow's ultimate goal is, with our community's help, to build a library of detailed answers to every programming question. Together with our brave users, we've gone on an amazing adventure as we've launched Stack Overflow sites in different languages over the past few years.
And it’s going well so far! If we look at the sites as one united international site, it is the second most active community after Stack Overflow in English (based on the question per day metric). Looking at our international sites and the rest of the Stack Exchange network, I clearly see a very important thing missing that every site on the network has except the international ones. I’m referring to the “Bidirectional communication channel between the company and the community”.
How do communities and the company communicate currently?
Since 01/01/2018 (up to 06/15/2018) the following have been posted by employees of the company:
- Meta Stack Exchange: 282 answers.
- Meta Stack Overflow in Russian: 48 answers.
- Meta Stack Overflow in Spanish: 28 answers.
- Meta Stack Overflow in Portuguese: 10 answers.
- Meta Stack Overflow in Japanese: 1 answer.
- Meta Stack Overflow in English: 412 answers.
It seems to me that if someone from the company does not speak the language of a community, it becomes isolated from the rest of the network. We do not want that to happen. Our philosophy of success relies heavily on our community. We gradually make our sites the best place to ask and answer questions on the Internet based on your feedback. Without a way to talk to a community and listen to our users there is little chance for improving anything.
What was the process?
At the start, there was one dedicated bilingual community manager for each international site. The way those community managers worked with communities differed from site to site. Each international site had different initiatives and different focuses which have almost never intersected. That means CM’s often did the same work in solving similar problems across the international sites. A lot of energy could have been saved by working together.
Improvement of communications
What if we did things another way? What if we were able to share initiatives between international sites, reuse the experience of other communities, and act based on feedback from all the sites? The first step towards this goal is to set up a communication channel for exchanging ideas, initiatives, and feedback between the company and communities as well as between the communities themselves.
The biggest challenge in the situation is the fact that all of the communities, including the company, speak different languages. It's nobody's fault but that's the reality. Because of this, I'd like to share some thoughts about how the communication channel might work.
Feedback And Initiatives On International Sites
- We need a channel for communication between the company and international communities as well as for international communities with one another. Currently, the best place for this is MSE.
- English will be used on MSE discussions and international sites will keep discussions in their own localized languages.
- Company initiatives will be shared in English on MSE and we will need the help of volunteer translators to post translated versions on their respective meta sites.
- Community initiatives will be shared on their respective meta site and will need to be translated for MSE. Then, they can spread across all other international metas as mentioned above.
- We will keep discussions on all meta sites synchronized.
- When a discussion on an international meta site is almost completed we need the volunteers’ help again to make a summary of what the international community said and post it as an answer on MSE.
Over the last few years on SOru we have tried to implement a lot of interesting initiatives (for example), we started a lot of social initiatives (for example), we integrated / activated some interesting engine features (for example). It bothers me that most of those initiatives have not been even suggested to other international communities. I tend to believe that the situation is the same on the other sites: each site has its own set of initiatives that nobody knows about except the users of the site.
That might lead to a situation where very important features for international communities do not get implemented in the engine because the initiatives seem to be needed for a relatively small number of users (if we look at them in the context of individual international sites). Each of our international sites is not big alone, but, as it was said, together we are the second most active community in the network. If all communities need one feature in the engine, my hope is that it will get the right priority. The first step, however, is to start discussing initiatives together.
How can we propagate an initiative across all international sites?
When we think about ways to communicate across the sites we need to consider the following:
- The process needs to be scalable. Imagine, that we had one hundred international sites. The process should work for any number of sites with no difficulties.
- The author of an initiative does not speak all the languages of our international sites.
- We want to have as many people looking at an initiative as possible, including our users from various English speaking communities and employees of the company.
- There should be a way for international communities to discuss an initiative in their own languages.
- The outcome of the discussions on international meta sites need to be shared with the rest of the network, and particularly with the other international sites.
With that in mind I’d like to share some thoughts about what the process might look like:
- The author of an initiative (a CM or a user) needs to post a question on MSE with a special tag (let’s say international-sites). The language of the post should always be English.
- Users who know two languages can volunteer to translate the question and post the translated version on an international meta site.
- When the translation gets posted on an international meta site, the volunteer adds a link to it to the question on MSE. Also, please add the link to the MSE question to the translated one. It should help us keep the discussion over metas synchronized.
- After a community discusses the initiative, we need a volunteer who will post a summary of the international meta discussion as an answer to the question on MSE. The summary should be in English. I think it might be a good idea to have one wiki answer where there will be summaries of all international meta sites. In this case, we are able to keep the answer on top of other replies by accepting it.
- If anyone has any thoughts about the initiative they can answer on any metas, including MSE.
In case of a community initiative, the process is almost the same with only one difference: the initiative gets started on an international meta site and needs to be translated into English and posted on MSE. After that everything is the same.
Having this process allows the company to understand what all international communities need. Also, the process should help our international communities exchange ideas about their own specific issues, share initiatives, and look at the amazing things that are happening with the International Stack Overflows.
Please, tell us what do you think
We want to make our international sites the best place on the internet to ask programming questions in the users’ first languages. The first step is to create a way for communities to communicate with each other and with the company. If you have any ideas for how we can improve processes in regards to this goal, please share your thoughts!
The initiative on international metas
- Discussion on SOpt: Feedback e Iniciativas nos Sites Internacionais
- Discussion on SOes: Comentarios e iniciativas en sitios internacionales
- Discussion on SOja: 多言語サイトにおける機能提案とフィードバックについて
- Discussion on SOru: Обратная связь и инициативы на интернациональных сайтах
- Discussion on Русский Язык: Обратная связь и инициативы на интернациональных сайтах
An update about tag naming
- Internationalization and localization are quite standard terms with well known meanings, which I think are not very suitable for this initiative.
- Stack Overflow international is a narrow term. The initiative is about international sites. In my understanding international sites are sites which UI is not in English. Today we have international Stack Overflows and Русский язык.
- It seems to me that the shorter a tag name the better. I think, it should be "international" (or may be "internationals") because of the same reason we do not use "stack-overflow-site".
We still have a lot of questions about naming. If you have any ideas how to improve tag names, please share what do you think!