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It seems clear at this point that MSE is not a useful mechanism for pointing out problems on SE sites and getting resolution for them.

It is useful in some ways. If SE staff ask questions about future actions being undertaken, there is a non-zero chance that they will pay attention to some of those responses and take them into account. While the new site layout still did happen despite lots of people not liking it very much, the powers that be were responsive to specific issues about certain aspects of it. So clearly, if SE staff ask for feedback, there is a non-zero chance that the feedback may matter.

Also, posting bug reports on MSE does sometimes lead to those bugs getting solved, in many cases.

But when it comes to non-bug issues with Stack Exchange as a network, it has become abundantly clear that asking a question on MSE will accomplish nothing. There are many lines of evidence for this.

One of them being that SE staff have explicitly stated that many of them don't care about what gets said on Meta at all:

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

Another line of evidence is a more recent event. There have been dozens of MSE posts about the "Hot Network Questions" list, many of them speaking quite negatively on its effects. These range from issues about how it causes a flood of users due to detecting controversial questions rather than good ones, to having to see a list of question titles that seem... less than professional. Things have occasionally been done, but these have been pretty minor. Regex filters for certain keywords and the like.

However, a few Twitter posts managed to find their ways into the eyes of a SE developer. This user managed to get approval to exclude IPS from the HNQ list, then implement that exclusion, and push it out into the live network.

Within one hour!

Equally rapidly, a post appeared on MSE, detailing a clear intent from the SE staff to fix the HNQ list or, if it proved unfixable, to scrap it entirely.

Now that is what I call an effective communication channel. In a scant few hours, SE company policy on the HNQ shifted visibly and dramatically, from an apparent course of "meh, whatever" to "OMG, we gotta fix/ditch this!"

My overall question is this: what communication channels can we use to get similar response times to user problems? Obviously, all the Meta posts about HNQ's problems had little effect, compared to a few tweets.

So, do SE users need to become more active on Twitter? Who should we be tweeting our issues to in order to get them heard? How should such tweets be composed?

Do SE users need to be making blog posts, and if so, where? What would be the most effective means of catching the attention of SE staff, such that our concerns will be taken seriously?

Note: This question is not about lambasting SE for not listening on Meta. That's a ship that has already sailed. So feel free to take comments on this subject elsewhere. I'm genuinely asking about what the best way to successfully communicate important issues to SE, such that they will actually respond to them.

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    I suggest to hire a plane and pilot and have the description of a bug written in the sky above SE headquarters. Alternatively someone singing and dancing the message in their cafeteria. – aloneprism Oct 18 '18 at 19:36
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    @SonictheInclusiveWerehog: That question is specifically about "old" requests. This is about effective communication channels for any requests. Also, my question specifically rules out MSE because, well, MSE is not effective for this usage, as explained. – Nicol Bolas Oct 18 '18 at 19:47
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    I don’t think this is about venue, so much as requests aligning with the preexisting objectives or strategic directions SE has already decided to pursue. It’s trivial that if you post something that aligns with their existing goals there will be more enthusiasm and less resistance to getting your ideas heard. In this case, SE’s objective in reducing or reversing the public view that it’s not welcoming or inclusive or diverse. In that scenario, it makes even more sense that public (ie external) attention drove urgency: it’s about PR and brand management. Putting out fires before they spread. – Dan Bron Oct 18 '18 at 20:53
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    Another objective you could align with is drawing traffic (ie new users) to the site, which Tim has recently described as a compelling concern for the company. But if you make requests that either seem orthogonal or contrary to their current objectives, stated or tacit, the best you can expect is to be ignored. At worst, either pandered to or chastised. – Dan Bron Oct 18 '18 at 20:54
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    FWIW, I suspect (from the original context, and from word choice) that the quote about colleagues dismissing feedback is less about not reading Meta, and more about reading Meta but not taking it seriously. Which is actually a stronger point. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 19 '18 at 2:28
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    This is not a duplicate of the question linked. – Magisch Oct 19 '18 at 9:45
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    Why are you asking this here and not on twitter? – aloneprism Oct 19 '18 at 11:45
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    I can't escape the impression that the old company regulars on the SO/SE side seem to suffer from a burnout where it comes to whatever we bring up here. Anything we say or do seems to be handled or ignored in a manner that's essentially "oh god, not this old thing from those people gain". Twitter or whatever other social medium outside the network doesn't suffer from that and still has a shock effect. So maybe it's not so much "where do we take our issues", but rather "how can the company get a fresh look at its own community". – Bart Oct 20 '18 at 20:25
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    Well, this very question is solid proof that MSE, or any meta site, is NOT the place to get anything done or even responded to. Staff ignores anything they don't want to reply to since it has zero public exposure. (i.e. only few MSE users will ever see the questions here, less than a fraction of twitter audience) – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Oct 22 '18 at 14:55
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    @E.P. nope. It is effective only when 1) posted by someone with thousands of followers, and 2) asking to do something simple like deleting posts, banning users, or shutting down sites. (all of those can be done quickly without putting much thought into it) – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Oct 22 '18 at 22:02
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    Interesting that after 5 days, not a single SE staff member has responded to this. No comments, no answers, no followup posts. No holding comment, like "We're discussing this and will give a proper reply in a few days". Nothing. That says a lot, doesn't it? – user568458 Oct 23 '18 at 7:53
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    Just a note that I'm working on an answer to this. The challenge I'm facing is that this closely ties to lots of other stuff that I have very strong opinions about (meta not scaling well for years now being one of them) so it's more of an effort than usual to try and stay concise and on-topic. I should have something written by tomorrow. I know what I want to say, how to say it is what remains. – Tim Post Oct 24 '18 at 15:00
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    @Braiam Jay response is hardly what Monica is after. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Oct 24 '18 at 15:07
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    @Braiam I will be speaking as myself, just as a self that's not throwing a novel full of rants at something where a simple essay might suffice :) I don't mind letting my frustration show, in fact I think it's as healthy for me as it is for all of you, but I don't want misplaced frustration lying around when I really need to be leading and communicating effectively, in whatever capacity I'm answering. – Tim Post Oct 24 '18 at 15:19
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    @TimPost as long as you say what is in your mind and your impressions of what is in the mind of others, that's good for me. We got no idea what any of you are thinking and that scares people. – Braiam Oct 24 '18 at 15:34
19
+100

Meta isn't scaling well for any of the goals that it was originally designed to meet. I don't want to get lost in discussing all of the ways that it's just not working; I'd rather just say that our structure when it comes to development evolved considerably and meta simply didn't.

I don't have a single good answer here. We're way past the point where the person out in front engaging with the community has direct control over priorities and what gets worked on next. We just can't delight people like we did in the old days where we'd roll out new stuff sometimes the same day it was asked for. I have substantial influence in this area, but ultimately, the PM that owns the product has to be able to define and manage their priorities. And those priorities aren't always open to negotiation. I hate to say it, but revenue really matters. That's not to say what you want doesn't, but we're not always able to talk about stuff that takes precedence or why. We didn't have that problem when our only source of revenue was ads and everyone knew who our customers were (well, everyone that disabled adblock).

Things happened the way they did this time because we positively had to do something about those titles being shown out of context, and there was something we could immediately do. Had the complaint have touched on something that required substantial resources to fix, the best we probably could have offered is an acknowledgement of the problem and a rough guess on when we might be able to get to it.

Meta doesn't track bugs well, it doesn't track feature requests well, it doesn't indicate presence from us well (how do you know what stuff Joe Friend has been looking at recently for distant scheduling?) and quite frankly, even working 60+ hour weeks, there's still not enough time to get everything done so adding even more writing on top of the PMs list of things to do isn't going to help.

There's also no good way of keeping a roadmap up to date, or even tracking progress toward goals in any kind of public way.

I think, in 2019, we're going to have to bite the bullet and replace at least bug tracking and feature requests with something else, or have something else behind the pipeline consuming meta and making sure it gets put somewhere else in ordered form so we can work from it. I don't know what that's going to look like, I just know what we've got isn't working, and breaks even more embarrassingly by the week.

And I know a lot of you have got "well why don't you just ... " suggestions at hand, that's great, but they're probably not going to help because you really need to be behind the scenes to know what cogs aren't going to fit.

So, for now, use Twitter if Twitter is comfortable for you. Use email if you want to use email. Use meta (many people don't because it's scary) - it's not that we're deliberately ignoring things, it's that the pile is so huge and continues to get so every day we pretend Meta still works.

The medium you use to talk to us isn't going to significantly impact how we resource things; the biggest factor there is what we might be able to do with whatever free resources are at hand. We need to replace this ad-hoc opportunistic game of fix-a-thing with systems specifically designed for modern development (don't worry, we'll still keep it around for discussion), but I don't have an ETA for that.

In short - I can't guarantee anything is going to be more successful than what we currently have, it would depend on the urgency of what you were reporting and how quickly we could mobilize to do something about it. Getting more eyeballs or people yelling about it will certainly get our attention, but getting our attention is in no way a guarantee that you'll get what you're after.

We know this is broken, and it's something we need to fix. And part of that fix really is adjusting expectations - we just can't ship the stuff folks ask for nearly as fast as we could previously -- we're just too big and there are too many dependencies and stakeholders.

But, I'm going to put pressure on setting priorities to settle on something that actually works so that we can at least set expectations consistently and accurately.

That's as honest as I can be. We need to keep how open and responsive and transparent we are as we transition into being a more mature company with structure. Until we do that, it won't matter where you go.

And, well, that's what I'm doing.

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    If people feel like they are being heard, they will be patient. If not, then things will get worse. – Don Thermidor_Lobster Mobster Oct 24 '18 at 19:45
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    Not entirely sure how to feel about this right now. At a minimum I can thank you for the raw honesty shown. But in all reality - all of the time and energy I poured into drumming up suggestions started in good faith and as a means to get the attention of these PMs is simply not going to bring in revenue. I respect that decision. I don't like it, but I at least respect it. – Makoto Oct 24 '18 at 19:51
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    When y'all get this all sorted out, call me back. If I've still got the motivation to do so, I'll pitch in some suggestions to make the site a better place. Although in the spirit of honesty, that motivation is almost nonexistent now. – Makoto Oct 24 '18 at 19:52
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    Thanks for the honesty, it's really appreciated. But I'm sad that Stack Overflow is changing into just another internet company that wants to make money. It's no longer "by programmers, for programmers, with the ultimate intent of collectively increasing the sum total of good programming knowledge in the world." – Stijn Oct 24 '18 at 20:14
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    It's disheartening that we've known meta sucks for some time, and regardless sorting it out properly was never a priority. Sure, it doesn't bring in money directly, but it could have helped avoid PR fails such as this one. Having a rap for being unfriendly to newcomers is in no way desirable, but neither is disrespect for the existing community, spilling over to other networks. Hopefully there are experienced people @ SE who can give a good price estimate for both and make sure it's worth it, otherwise it all seems pretty shortsighted imo. But, mistakes were made, now it's only damage control – Luke Oct 24 '18 at 20:35
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    Bite the bullet indeed. Sorry to say this, but the talk about revenue feels pretty short-sighted, given that the stakes here are the core revenue-generation engine - the users that write the answers and the community moderation that lets you keep things civilised without a CM team numbering in the hundreds. It's good to see an acknowledgement that meta hasn't scaled (I don't like it, but it is what it is). What's missing here is a clear SE recognition that this is a big problem and a roadmap for how that scaling will get fixed. – E.P. Oct 24 '18 at 20:42
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    "Meta doesn't track bugs well, it doesn't track feature requests well" -- hmm let's see. Say I'm SE developer and I want to block IPS at HNQ, okay. 1) I go to their meta, 2) search posts about hot questions - there are four of them, easy to check and, 3) ah-ha! one suggests a temporary moratorium, bingo. 4) I tag that moratorium request status-review and 5) proceed with blocking. Nothing difficult, just few mouse clicks and I'm done. Looks like meta tracks feature requests fairly well – gnat Oct 24 '18 at 21:16
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    "Things happened the way they did this time because we positively had to do something about those titles being shown out of context" Why? The titles were fine. They were safe for work. They weren't sexist. Not every complaint is valid. – curiousdannii Oct 24 '18 at 23:05
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    What happened to the soul of stack exchange? Is revenue really so bad that you have to sell out everything that set this place apart from every 2 cent Q/A site of which there are dozens? Is this now just another tech company with all the downfalls that come with it? – Magisch Oct 25 '18 at 5:41
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    ya'll need to give Tim and the other diamonds from SO who regularly post here some credit. This is an excellent response, and I've read many excellent SO diamond responses here on meta. I'd say the only legit complaint is the rate at which changes actually get rolled out. And like any big company with growing pains, this stuff can be much harder than it looks from the outside. Not to mention, there were recently layoffs -- let's not forget that. We have a very incomplete view of that from the outside. – Jeff Atwood Oct 25 '18 at 6:26
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    @Jeff We do give them credit for the great stuff they post. We also do (and need to) call them out when there's whole strings of important feedback and requests (say, like the ones that would have prevented this mess) that get completely ignored. If the plan is to let those slide then you're not talking about meta, you're talking about a blog. – E.P. Oct 25 '18 at 7:20
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    Many are still baffled about why there was such a knee-jerk reaction to one tweet. You say "when our only source of revenue was ads.... everyone knew who our customers were", immediately followed by "...we positively had to do something about those titles being shown out of context" - so, reading between the lines, it's because one of your behind-the-scenes customers/stakeholders saw the tweet and got worried? That would be more understandable. – user568458 Oct 25 '18 at 9:59
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    @TimPost it's unfortunate that this mainly amounts to, "Yes, your suspicion, fear, and resentment is mostly justified." Still, I really appreciate your candor. It's much better to know where we stand than to drift through uncertainty limbo... sort of like diagnosing a condition that we'd previously known only through its painful symptoms. I don't envy your position... and I wish you luck in building an alternative channel. – canon Oct 25 '18 at 20:08
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    The honesty is appreciated, but this really should have been a blog post written as soon as the team realized that Meta wasn't scaling well enough to permit the team to remain responsive to user feedback. Instead, core users have suspected for years that Meta isn't the best platform on which to make requests, but this is only admitted in an answer to a question that already assumes that fact, which was written in response to a debacle over a tweet. – Kyle Strand Oct 25 '18 at 22:10
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    "revenue really matters" is a great reason to listen to all those folks doing the hard work of answering and moderation for free – Felipe Pereira Oct 26 '18 at 2:06
72

Thought experiment

Let's imagine that this week, the same person with the same attitude had posted the same complaint on meta instead of as a tweet. What would have happened?

Feel free to post your own interpretation in the comments, but my answer to this is the following. Note that I'm not commenting on whether or not this is what should have happened, just that objectively I think it's what would have happened:

they'd have been downvoted to hell, probably closed as duplicate, possibly suspended for rudeness. Nothing would have come of it.

What can we learn from this?

  • When people post civil and constructive suggestions on meta, as likely as not they'll be ignored. (Of course SE does implement some changes, and I'm sure they try to prioritise as well as they can given whatever constraints they have, but it's a fact that many nice and well-worded feature requests with positive community feedback have been for years.)

  • When people post angry and non-constructive rants on meta, they're almost always met with downvotes, close/delete votes, and potentially (depending on the amount of anger expressed) bans from the site.

  • When people post on Twitter, there's no way for SE to moderate them or control the reaction. The only thing they can do to contain it is to actively and publicly respond. If they do nothing ... well, maybe the tweet will get ignored, and maybe it'll go viral and SE will lose all face and backers.

    Also (not re this specific tweet, but a general point) drama gets eyeballs. Controversy is much more likely to go viral than a reasonable, well-argued, balanced criticism that takes all facts into account. Or, as Eoin Colfer channelling Douglas Adams wittily put it:

    Guide Note: Throughout recorded history the ability to ‘state one’s case well’ has generally had about as much success as ‘talking things out reasonably’ or ‘putting aside our differences’. The people who use these tactics generally mean well and would make excellent motivational speakers or kindergarten teachers, but on no account should they be put in charge of situations where lives are at stake. [...] General Anyar Tsista, the acknowledged prince of negotiators, once claimed that while on the job he never used a sentence that did not include at least one zark, two shits and half a dozen asscracks. His final pronouncement contained only a single shit, and was uttered in the form of an authoritative command to his bowels, which had locked up as a result of too many hours seated around the negotiation tables. Unfortunately, because of their thin bowel walls, Golgafrinchans are prone to catastrophic bowel ruptures, so General Anyar Tsista’s final utterance was also what killed him.

From a cynical point of view, a Twitter rant might put SE in a position where they have to do something about a problem. A meta post never will, because they control the platform.

  • 2
    There are going to be many places where we, as users, employees, or just plain people, can't control the narrative. When there's an aspect of publicity to it, you're not speaking to just convince your opponent; you're also trying to convince the audience reading it. Providing a measured, reasoned response to a tirade makes you come off as the more level headed debater. That usually pays way more dividends in the long run than a panic reaction. – fbueckert Oct 19 '18 at 19:18
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    @fbueckert "Providing a measured, reasoned response to a tirade makes you come off as the more level headed debater" - have you met Twitter? That's what they call sealioning or whatever. Admittedly I've never used Twitter, but I'm pretty sure it's a place where that Colfer-Adams quote applies very well: be reasonable and nobody will listen, be controversial and you'll go viral. – Rand al'Thor Oct 20 '18 at 15:27
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    I stay off Twitter. Wasn't really the reason, but that's now a very good one. If being reasonable gets you that level of backlash, there's no reason to ever use the platform. – fbueckert Oct 20 '18 at 15:56
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    @Randal'Thor: For what it's worth, there is a definition of "Sealioning." It is very much a real tactic used to mire, redirect, or otherwise degrade real discussions. I don't know that the various posts the Twitter user is referring to represent genuine sea-lioning, but the concept itself is valid. – Nicol Bolas Oct 20 '18 at 17:12
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    @NicolBolas: Frankly, I'm pretty skeptical of the term; the concept appears to primarily exist as a way to denigrate and justify ignoring questions that one finds challenging to answer… or awkward to answer honestly. In principle I'm sure it's possible, and indeed has almost certainly been done deliberately, even before the term was coined, but going around whining about "sealioning" is a great way to ensure you never get anybody engaging in rational disagreement with you. Most named fallacies or dishonest debating tactics have this problem, but few to as great an extent. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 21 '18 at 0:36
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    @NicolBolas (To be fair, the idea of "sealioning" probably derives a lot of its popular justifying force from something other than merely censoring one's opponents, attractive as that is. That is, Twitter and similar services that rely heavily on notifications can easily make everyday life unpleasant if something you say in public starts taking fire. This was never anywhere near as bad in past decades, since if someone took exception to an opinion piece, broadside, letter to the editor, or book, you at least wouldn't get pings while sitting at home.) – Nathan Tuggy Oct 21 '18 at 0:39
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    @NathanTuggy - Having been on the receiving end of a sealion attack on Stack Exchange, I can honestly say that it's not fun. It's basically a form of bullying/intimidation and frankly I can understand why she told these two IPS mods to "buzz off". What's astounding is that she didn't use harsher language. – Richard Oct 21 '18 at 13:49
45

I don't see any reasonable way other than SE making an intentional effort to listen more to the community on the various meta sites, and follow through with it. Or just declare that meta doesn't matter, and only take bug reports and support requests on it. Good meta posts take a lot of work, if that doesn't lead to anything we should stop wasting it.

The correct place for feedback is here, connected to the site, from the people that are using it. Putting it on Twitter means the people with the most followers, or the best direct connections to SE count, and everyone else doesn't. The same counts for blogs, I don't have a blog, and if I had, I doubt anyone would read it. So only people with an audience matter.

The easiest way to systematically improve this would probably be to declare an arbitrary score threshold and task employees with looking at meta posts that meet this threshold and organize a response. This is a very old idea, and a rather blunt instrument, but organic responses by SE just don't seem to properly cover meta, so a formal way could help.

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    There’s the “correct” place and then there’s the “effective” place. As long as SE is willing to drop everything to respond to a tweet, meta will never be the effective place. – ColleenV Oct 18 '18 at 20:19
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    @ColleenV Large amounts of publicly visible drama will always work to get a reaction, anything else would be careless by a for-profit company. I don't blame SE reacting to a shitstorm, I blame them for not reacting before it. The problem isn't SE listening to people on Twitter, it's not listening to people on meta, and to overreact without consulting the community. – Mad Scientist Oct 18 '18 at 20:28
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    You can’t control what other people do, you can only control your reaction to it and what that reaction incentivizes. It was a mistake to not put the reaction through a proper process. The “offending” questions weren’t that offensive (from what I can tell from my armchair :) ) so a deep breath and a more measured response would have been better in my opinion. – ColleenV Oct 18 '18 at 20:33
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    I like the idea of a vote threshold for a formal debate/response. The UK parliament uses this for their petition site and although it's hit-and-miss in terms of affecting real change, at least people can see that it's getting in front of those who hold the levers of power. – Richard Oct 18 '18 at 20:58
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    @Richard: Likewise, the US White House petition site has formal signature thresholds that are guaranteed various levels of reply. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 19 '18 at 2:30
  • @MadScientist that tweet didn't have particularly high engagement or visibility. The response increased both, a little, and SO's public image was not particularly helped. – De Novo Oct 26 '18 at 23:52
15
+25

Title of your question kind of hints at an answer. One of communication channels to consider for effecting change to SE is to discuss this change in the very same social media channel where it originated from.

Specifically, when Stack Exchange team refer or respond to particular social media post to announce or justify some change in the system our community members can get to that post and discuss it and involved change over there.


One caveat, authors of these originating posts might sometimes get unhappy about received feedback from our community. I heard that was the case with two recent changes ("welcoming" and blocking IPS from hot questions).

But I guess it should be responsibility of SE employees to consider consequences when they choose to hijack particular social media post and turn it into change announcement / justification.

  • 4
    This also solves the visibility issue for the majority of users who don't have thousands of followers and whose insular Tweets would otherwise just vanish in oblivion. – Christian Rau Oct 24 '18 at 9:34
  • well @ChristianRau I for one plan to refer suggestion in this answer every time that I see someone raising meta concern about next tweet used to break something in the system. Jeff recently mentioned about "negative publicity on social media" - maybe SE folks haven't yet learned how it can really look like – gnat Oct 24 '18 at 15:32
14

This is basically another form of saying

How and where can I generate bad publicity for {company X} such that the bad publicity drives them to change {thing that needs to change}?

To pick a big, dramatic example -- if the New York Times posts a huge sensational expose about a company, it's very likely to result in changes at the target company.

In both cases, I'm personally glad that the Twitter outrage happened because the underlying changes were ~5 years overdue and discussed extensively on meta beforehand to very little practical effect. Whatever the vector, at least now real action is being taken, and changes are being made, not just discussed ad nauseam. I guess you'd say the ends justified the means.

Is the lesson

Should I try to generate an intentionally sensational example and post it on social media in a sensational way, in order to trigger positive changes that have been discussed ad nauseam for years, but no action has ever been taken?

... well, kinda.. yes, you should? It works.

As long as your heart is in the right place, and your goal is truly and honestly to effect positive change (particularly the kind of positive change that has been discussed for years on meta in great detail with very little practical change), I for one don't have a problem with that, speaking for myself personally. YMMV.

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    As long as your heart is in the right place ... Would it be fair to say that I don't find that a fair statement? Looking at the profile that started all this... I find it very hard to say that person has their heart in the right place :( – Tinkeringbell Oct 19 '18 at 11:48
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    So we should all go on social media and bash SE? I don't have a problem with that, but does it really help the network improve? – John Locke Oct 19 '18 at 11:50
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    So you're basically saying that all of the community discussion and involvement about changes to SE are worthless and that if you really want to change things, then just rant about stuff on Twitter? – Snow Oct 19 '18 at 11:57
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    I upvoted this, not really because I like that it reflects reality but more because I believe this is why years of meta requests for something similar were ignored and a single tweet on twitter resulted in change in approximately 45 minutes. – enderland Oct 19 '18 at 13:01
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    If the opinion is that we should be leveraging social media to discuss problems on a platform which has methods for communicating with its participants, then Meta is little more than a sham, and our efforts in participating here have proven to be a waste of time. I'm glad change happened, too. I'm not happy that it was some random person from outside the context who overnight became "The Catalyst™" in both cases. – Makoto Oct 19 '18 at 14:58
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    @Makoto I've found my frustration with SE as a whole went way down when I realized Meta is little more than a sham is.. more close to the truth than not. – enderland Oct 19 '18 at 15:01
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    So what you’re saying is we need something like SmokeDetector, except it scrapes Meta for ignored feedback and uses a network of volunteers to make a big stink about it on social media. Once we’ve sufficiently brow-beaten the development team into making that demand a priority, the bot will pick the next item and artificially inflate its priority. To me this ignores the root problem that the user base doesn’t trust the development to prioritize things properly. That trust problem is solved with communication, which the SE team could be better at (apparently). – ColleenV Oct 19 '18 at 15:13
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    The part where SE employees maligned our users and moderators before investigating what turned out to be incorrect claims was not so cool, though. Respond to Twitter, sure, but let's do it responsibly please. Or do I need to tweet this comment for it to do any good? – Monica Cellio Oct 19 '18 at 16:10
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    @Magisch expect-want or expect-predict? I want those employee tweets to be taken down and disavowed. I want a clear statement on Twitter that we listen to feedback and make decisions based on evidence not assertions. I want better training for employees about when and how to represent the company in public venues. I predict...less than that, but still have some hopes that SE will try to repair the community and moderator relationships it massively damaged this week. – Monica Cellio Oct 19 '18 at 18:39
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    @MonicaCellio I want the same things as you, but I expect less then nothing. Indeed, I expect a blog post calling us out for "harassing" the complainer. They're already accusing SE moderators that have tried to talk to them about it of "sea lioning" and an employee has responded that they take these allegations seriously. – Magisch Oct 19 '18 at 18:43
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    @Richard there were no DMs as far as we know, that was a misunderstanding. And there was no CM involved on Twitter at all at that point, until Tim Post commented. – Mad Scientist Oct 19 '18 at 20:40
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    @ColleenV I would say that some of the changes were kinda hard in that it wasn't clear exactly what to do to "fix" things (though radically overdue, like the /ask page improvements, this is a page which is critical to a Q&A network that literally hadn't changed in any meaningful way since 2011) and it wasn't outright broken, thus development wasn't prioritized. I think the same logic applies to the Hot Network Questions list. So TL;DR not a grand radical conspiracy to devalue meta, just PMs and engineers naturally gravitating away from complex, uncertain work in favor of clearer work. – Jeff Atwood Oct 19 '18 at 21:50
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    @JeffAtwood Not at all. And hopefully those 5 years of discussions were held by people with their hearts in the right place (I haven't had the time to catch up with them, too many fires to put out, sorry). I'm saying that I find it very unfair and hurtful that you're labelling the retweet that caused IPS to be out of HNQ as made by 'someone with their heart in the right place', because the tone of it, the profile that it's made on, and the reaction it got from SE, goes contrary to about everything the interpersonal skills site stands for. – Tinkeringbell Oct 20 '18 at 9:58
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    Let's see what happens: twitter.com/MonicaCellio/status/1053850846570651648 – Monica Cellio Oct 21 '18 at 3:30
  • 7
    @MonicaCellio an interesting experiment and well worth trying, I'm glad you posted that. I would say the broader issue is that these shifting sands difficult problems don't get powerful internal sponsorship any more, e.g. "not a grand radical conspiracy to devalue meta, just PMs and engineers naturally gravitating away from complex, uncertain work in favor of clearer work." No disrespect intended; hard problems are hard, as Obama famously said. But doing nothing (or near-nothing) for years just doesn't sit well with me.. – Jeff Atwood Oct 22 '18 at 2:02
13

I had been planning to be gone from the site until January, but having found out about recent events, I decided to drop back in briefly in the hopes that my input may help the site.

In theory, this should be the place.

But as a friend of mine used to say (God rest his soul).

"In theory, theory and practice are the same, in practice they are not."

Without rehashing what's been said too much.....

In order for any feedback venue to be effective, it has to do the following.

  1. Address grievances

  2. Listen to criticism

  3. Acknowledge concerns

  4. Demonstrate that it is doing 1, 2, and 3

As the recent dustup has demonstrated, if this is not the case people will exercise other options. I found out about it because it's made it to Facebook now.

It looks like people are upset and are going to make their voices heard.

It would be better for SE if those concerns were aired in here, and not elsewhere. The only reason people would go elsewhere would be if they felt like they were not getting satisfaction here.

So, the owners and mods at SE need to ask themselves the following questions HONESTLY

  1. Are we doing everything we can to listen?
  2. Are we showing the respect we want to receive ourselves?

  3. Why would anyone want to go offsite to discuss what is going on in here?

I can briefly point out what I've seen that I think accounts for some of the frustration:

  • If someone brings up a point and they are polite, they are often ignored.
  • If someone brings up multiple points, and are polite, they are accused of sea-lioning
  • IF someone gets frustrated, and brings up a point forcefully, they are called rude
  • If someone gets REALLY frustrated and brings up multiple points forcefully, they are banned.

There's more, but I think that sums up my point.

I suspect that this will not be well received, but I do hope to be proven wrong.

  • 1
    Hey, look at that, we agree on something ;) – apaul Oct 24 '18 at 18:14
  • @apaul a great deal more than you might expect – Don Thermidor_Lobster Mobster Oct 26 '18 at 11:10
12

It’s here it should be, but SE team need to improve.

As such in IMO;

I would think that after X votes, an official reply should be made by the SE team to show the request acceptance.

After a bounty in one of those request, an official reply with a status update should be made.

After X positive votes, after a status-declined was set on a request, it should be rethink and a status update should be written in it. As something not imaginable 5 year ago is maybe possible now.

In SE they started to give status back, they should talk about the top 5 requests still open there too, to give a status without having to offer a bounty.

11

Obviously, those channels that lack all the quality control and boringness MSE provides. Because it's not about lists of pros and cons, or about rational suggestions, but rather, as Jeff succinctly put it, it's about sensational examples which garner attention. And he's completely right - it works.

Use what has been a hot topic as an opportunity to learn: HNQ. More precisely, its flaws. HNQ draws attention (sometimes too much) with subpar selection algorithm which favours controversial questions instead of quality ones. Positive feedback loop around it makes those popular questions even more popular. Likewise, a well-followed social media account is a soapbox for anything you have to put out - the more flashy, controversial, rude, snarky, it is, more attention it gathers. The more attention it gathers, the more attention it gathers. Therefore it will get to someone at SE more quickly and will need to be put out accordingly quickly. I argue it doesn't matter whether that's Twitter, Medium, or an editorial in NYT. The only thing it matters is that it appeals to the masses. In other words, think like a populist, not like a meritocrat.

Don't get me wrong, hearing outside criticism can be tremendously helpful. It's a great resource to see what is being done wrong, a unique opportunity to escape the echo-box SE can become with established community. But instead of using meta sites as tools to prevent fires getting out in the first place, and when occasionally some slips out to contain the damage and put it out in a controlled environment, they are completely ignored by the higher ups.

There's no "prevention", so forget about it. Start fires, as they are the ones that need to be put out. It will work, because it has to work. Well, at least as long as there are less fires than firefighters (and considering response times, we're still pretty far away from that moment). Just be sure to get a big enough soapbox to throw matches.

-7

Maybe the best solution is to close MSE forever?

[Emphasis in bold mine]

Starting from the OP's introductory paragraph

It seems clear at this point that MSE is not a useful mechanism for pointing out problems on SE sites and getting resolution for them.

It is useful in some ways. If SE staff ask questions about future actions being undertaken, there is a non-zero chance that they will pay attention to some of those responses and take them into account.

It also seems that the OP does not exclude the remotest chance, however rare that may be, that someone from the SE Team takes notice. They continue

While the new site layout still did happen despite lots of people not liking it very much, the powers that be were responsive to specific issues about certain aspects of it.

This bit is actually true. Some bugs and defects were fixed and some design features were improved. The OP opines...

So clearly, if SE staff ask for feedback, there is a non-zero chance that the feedback may matter.

Oh, wait – they meant that there is a chance of that happening now (see comments below)

Also, posting bug reports on MSE does sometimes lead to those bugs getting solved, in many cases.

Ah, good! I think…

But when it comes to non-bug issues with Stack Exchange as a network, it has become abundantly clear that asking a question on MSE will accomplish nothing. There are many lines of evidence for this.

But there had been requests and suggestions to improve certain features and aesthetic qualities of the new theme, the new theme which I, personally, dislike intensely. Developers, community managers, and product managers, responded and handled those requests when they could.
Don't believe me?

Examples of when SE staff listened and when ‘stuff’ changed via MSE

By Jon Ericson♦, community manager, posted on August 13

  1. 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.

By Joe Friend♦, product manager, posted on August 22

  1. 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 appears to be an objective assessment by someone who was acutely aware of users' complaints. The SE employee is unhappy about the current hostile climate, but they seem willing and eager to work with the user base.

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.

By @Journeyman Geek, SE user and moderator on SuperUser, posted on August 13 [emphasis mine]

  1. 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: • 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 […] We didn't like the 'filler' background on ours and explained why..

Overall, the user appeared to be happy. Were not his complaints heard and acted upon?

Back in March 2018, @Adám asked

  1. Can we at least select our fonts?
    I think the fonts give much of the feeling to a site, and may even affect usability. For instance, English.SE benefits from using a serif font to clearly distinguish letters and make IPA more readable. Likewise, Judaism.SE's serif font makes Hebrew phrases (which are very common there) look much better. And on Math.SE the serif font makes MathJax formulas blend in nicely. […]

This was not a bug report. On Jun 7, Joe Friend ♦ posted .

@Monica Cellio, user and moderator on the following sites: Mi Yodeya, The Workplace, and Worldbuilding, on Sep 27–a month before the twitter debacle–posted

  1. But we can change some of the design consequences, like fonts and accessibility and our logo. I appreciate that SE is trying to work with communities on the things we can affect, and upvoting the announcements and being constructive and just plain civil in our responses are both keys to that.
    After we responded to the preview of our design, Joe had this to say:

    You all get the nicest community award. Your feedback was on point and very constructive. You're all awesome. I've added tags to the feedback below and we will try to include changes where ever we can to address it. Thanks! - Joe
    And you know what? They fixed all the things we complained about on that post.

  2. The Save the Robot! campaign was initiated on Worldbuilding meta on July 10th.

As per this post of the site's design being introduced, a lot of thought has gone into the site we know and love. It would be a great loss to lose these designs that have a place in our worldbuilding hearts.
Please upvote this to show your support in the current site-design, the true site-design.

  1. On that same day, a similar request was posted by @Mithrandir on MSE

Second, what's happening with those figures? You've incorporated the header image, but... what about our friends in the theme there? Can't we fit them in somewhere?

The post on Workldbuilding attracted 83 upvotes with no downvotes while the post on MSE gained a respectable 74 upvotes. And the two heroic figures were restored on the new theme. I'd call it a success story.

I think there is enough evidence to suggest that meta is not without its merits but it seems that I misinterpreted the OP's protest because in the comments the OP spells out [emphasis mine],

The point of this post is for issues where the Powers That Be have not asked us for ideas or to tell them issues. Essentially, it's about their response to unsolicited advice.

But let's remind ourselves of the title. It asks

What are the effective communication channels for effecting change to SE?

Did the examples mentioned show that change can be affected through MSE or not? Moreover, SE staff did not ask if users liked the new theme, but to “provide constructive feedback” while SE's new community manager, Catija ♦, (a member of SE Meta for over 44 months), posted on every child meta site the following directive: “Please help us look for issues/bugs related to the theme design and how we have mapped the old theme to the new.” and “If you have concerns or issues regarding the left nav or the overall approach we are taking to theming, then this Meta Stack Exchange post is the right place for feedback.”

So, how accurate is the accusation that MSE staff barely (or never) respond to observations, complaints, or ideas on how to improve the Stack Exchange experience for its 170+ Q&A websites? If–as the OP argues–it's true that staff ignore users' suggestions and complaints and are only prompted into action when a problem is exposed in a tweet, then maybe, maybe, it's time for this white elephant to go into retirement. Tim Post's answer certainly seems to hint at this direction:

I think, in 2019, we're going to have to bite the bullet and replace at least bug tracking and feature requests with something else, or have something else behind the pipeline consuming meta and making sure it gets put somewhere else in ordered form so we can work from it.

We know this is broken, and it's something we need to fix. And part of that fix really is adjusting expectations - we just can't ship the stuff folks ask for nearly as fast as we could previously -- we're just too big and there are too many dependencies and stakeholders.

EDIT 31 October

I got a fair number of downvotes for this post but if you believe that the people who run Stack Exchange do not listen to advice, do not respond to ideas, and do not care about users' grievances, the elimination of MSM is the natural and only logical conclusion.

Do the downvoters agree that MSE is not a useful mechanism for pointing out problems? Do they sustain that users have no other venue but Twitter if they want to be heard or taken seriously? Or do the downvoters disagree that Meta should retire, that it's served its purpose? Frankly I don't know because (until a few minutes ago) the only comments I got were by the OP and by user1271772.

The essential question posed by the OP is a very simple one, is posting on MSM a waste of time? It seems that 147 users agree with his analysis. While another 64 users agree with Rand al'Thor's answer, which is scathing in its criticism and conclusion.

[emphasis not mine]

From a cynical point of view, a Twitter rant might put SE in a position where they have to do something about a problem. A meta post never will, because they control the platform.


ORIGINAL (and edited)

What could replace MSE?

Child Metas Fly the Coop

Each of the 170+ sister sites has its own meta site. Users are encouraged to post “a question about a specific site's function and policy, or a specific question on a specific site, … on the per-site meta.

By eliminating MSE you place greater power and responsibility in the hands of child metas, and in the hands of the elected mods. Users who know and usually deeply care about the site. That can't be a bad thing.

With the advent of the new theme, and its adoption network-wide, every site will have the same identical platform, every site will have compatible themes, so every bug reported on any child meta should be reproduced easily on any of the other 170 sites. Any suggestions on improving a site's appearance or functionality will also have to take into account the other 170 Q&A sites. There can be no more requests to tweak the voting arrows on a specific site or modify the logo's position for instance. If a proposal on a specific child meta earns significant consensus the mods on that child meta can pass that proposal/petition to the other sites, when a minimum consensus is reached (maybe +200 upvotes) then the "powers that be" must post their response, that response can be posted simultaneously network-wide.

MSM can then be used for official announcements, games, competitions, and when the SE developers need feedback on new features and fixed bugs etc. Users can then posts answers, but ONLY answers. One of the knock-on effects would be the elimination of off-topic questions that continue to plague the site on a daily basis.

To sum up, it's all about numbers; community managers, product managers, software developers and the Director Of Community Strategy would listen to users if proposals were upvoted on several different child metas rather than posted on Facebook or in a tweet by a solitary user… unless their name happens to be Jon Skeet.


Kinda related:

Create a link between Meta from all the per site child meta sites

How to get attention to a post on a child meta site

Make network-wide FAQ posts available on per-site metas

Can you do a better job of informing new meta users of the MSE M-child difference?

How can we get people to participate on Meta sites?

Which meta am I supposed to post on?

  • 6
    "But... but... there had been requests and suggestions to improve certain details of the new theme" Only after they asked for suggestions. The point of this post is for issues where the Powers That Be have not asked us for ideas or to tell them issues. Essentially, it's about their response to unsolicited advice. Users posting unsolicited issues about the HNQ on Meta were largely ignored; people posting unsolicited issues about the HNQ on Twitter were not. – Nicol Bolas Oct 25 '18 at 14:15
  • @NicolBolas your question, is not a question, it's a rant. What is the aim of your question? Do you sincerely believe an SE user on a Twitter account has a stronger platform or soapbox to influence the "powers that be"? We're using this platform for free, we're volunteering our time, no one is paying us and we are not customers/clients/stockholders. SE Stack Overflow is too big, it's impossible to finance a company if no one is willing to invest some cash. – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '18 at 14:22
  • 2
    "Do you sincerely believe an SE user on a Twitter account has a stronger platform or soapbox to influence the "powers that be"?" Given recent events, how can you claim that it isn't? If years of Meta posts got only minimal changes, but one tweet causes a near-instantaneous response, then I don't see what other conclusion you can draw. – Nicol Bolas Oct 25 '18 at 14:29
  • "What is the aim of your question?" It is exactly what it says: Meta is clearly not a good place to ask for changes, but Twitter was effective. Do we need to start posting stuff off-site to get something done? And if so, where and how? – Nicol Bolas Oct 25 '18 at 14:31
  • "I don't see what other conclusion you can draw" Then put it to the test on your Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Snapshot accounts etc. – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '18 at 14:31
  • Gotta go, I'm working – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '18 at 14:32
  • 3
    One more thing for when you get back: "Eh? Hallo? (not a typo) But the OP just said that the powers that be were responsive to users' suggestions for improvements and the bugs they found." A "non-zero chance" means exactly that: the chance of them changing it is not zero and therefore must be more than that. I used a double-negative to emphasize that, while there is a chance, it probably isn't a good chance. As exemplified in the "New Contributor" "feedback" thread, where literally no changes were made to the feature despite many constructive criticisms of it. – Nicol Bolas Oct 25 '18 at 14:37
  • @NicolBolas so you're saying that "There is a non-zero chance" means "there is a chance"? I interpreted it to mean "there is no chance" and I'm pretty sure that a double negative would be "There isn't a zero chance", but I could be wrong. – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '18 at 17:20
  • 2
    Well, "zero chance" would be equivalent to "no chance", right? So a "non-zero chance" is equivalent to "not no chance", right? If your chances aren't zero, then there must be a chance, however small. – Nicol Bolas Oct 25 '18 at 17:41
  • It's confusing and ambiguous... why not just say "slim chance"? – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '18 at 18:00
  • 3
    "why not just say "slim chance"?" Because I prefer 'non-zero chance'; I like the phrasing of it. I like using double-negation as a way to minimize something. And for the record, thus far you appear to be the only person who has mentioned being confused by this phrase. – Nicol Bolas Oct 25 '18 at 18:47
  • So what you're actually saying is that there is an almost (but not quite) zero chance that staff at SE will respond to feedback. Correct? – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '18 at 19:03
  • 3
    non-zero chance is a common-ish English phrase which comes from the math term non-zero measure: a impossible event which is not an event with zero probability. So yes, its come to mean "this is basically impossible but not technically impossible" (this has little to do with your post - I just like math - and thought the linked answers might help others who don't understand the term) – JGreenwell Oct 26 '18 at 0:02
  • 1
    @user1271772 ?? Do I know you? I posted an answer, not a question. And I'm sorry but usernames that are a series of numbers are pretty much meaningless for me. I don't know who you are. – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 '18 at 20:17
  • 1
    Don't abolish MSE. It's an excellent resource for community discussion regarding the SE network itself, and also a Q&A site about SE. I have a deep interest in how the network works. Abolishing MSE would cause me to lose most of my network rep. – Sonic the Bracketed Hedgehog Oct 31 '18 at 8:52

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