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I have been a longtime lurker on Stack Exchange, and enjoyed using it as a reference and learning tool.

I am happy to see it grow, but I am increasingly worried about where it's going.

Prompted by Sara's recent post What a very bad day at work taught me about building Stack Overflow’s community, I decide to write about my own experience and share my thoughts about growing the community, as a sequel to Sara's post, and as my contribution in return for what SE gave me over the years.

I left a comment under her post but am unsure why it's not showing up (stuck in the spam filter maybe?). So, I decided, why not join Meta and share my thoughts with the community directly?

Here is my post, which took me several days to finish:

What two very bad days (and everything else) on Stack Exchange taught me about building Stack Exchange's community

It will be a long read with nearly 7000 words, so a brief summary is included here:

1. An "off-topic" math question

The story of my two very bad days on Math SE as a new contributor.

2. Ask Ubuntu, answers nobody

As of Friday, there were 325,137 questions, 109,451 questions with no upvoted or accepted answers. That's about 1/3. Something is wrong with this.

My queries on Data Explorer show on the top five SE sites there are an excessive number of rep=1 users who just come, ask a question and leave.

3. The problem: The userbase has grown, but the system has not.

The system is still that of a small internet forum from the early 2000s.

If we compare SE to a country, SE is like a mobocracy with a failing economy.

The dysfunctional system causes an excessive burden on existing users whom must spend a lot of time policing new users and are growing frustrated.

This incentivizes new users who want to come and get their problems solved to make the minimum effort to get what they want and leave ASAP (the effort in mentoring them also going down the drain).

And those who want to come here and share their knowledge are turned away by the chaos and uncertainty, and by the disregard of the value of their contribution simply because they have less rep. (Remember, everyone here started with rep=1, or 101 if you joined years ago.)

4. How to improve the system

My proposals:

People who come to share their knowledge, the suppliers in the knowledge economy, are SE's most valuable users on most sites. Focus on making the sites better for them. (There is a detailed analysis in my post of what make them want to come here.)

Ask users to classify their questions according to whether they want to get help with their problems, or help the community discover something interesting. Handle differently.

Stop displaying rep along usernames. The emphasis on rep encourages prejudice, and distracts from more important things.

Don't think about good questions and bad questions, good answers and bad answers.

Instead, think about good matches and bad matches between whose who ask and those who answer, those who post and those who view. This naturally makes it easier for newbies to come and ask questions.

Wind down the existing system of upvotes/downvotes and rep, replace with ratings on match plus collectibles. (Existing rep should convert to a special collectible so that high rep users can continue to enjoy their status.)

Replace "comments" with "suggest an improvement" and "I have something to add", which have clear purposes and encourage constructive feedback (and allow criticism to be be viewed more favorably by the receiving end).

Establish a reasonable "legislative" system, and separate arbitration from enforcement, so that "rule by the mob" can become "rule of law".

Incorporate the following Five Pillars of Stack Exchange Sites, in the spirit of Wikipedia's "Five Pillars":

Every user has the right to ask questions and post answers, provided such answers and questions facilitate the spread of knowledge.

A user's participation shall not impede the spread of knowledge.

Users shall obey the rules enacted by the community following established procedures.

Users shall treat each other with respect.

Users shall behave as if they were in a classroom or workplace.

Note the single "respect" clause already covers much of what's in the existing Code of Conduct, and is much more clear cut and easy to enforce. Nobody can demand "friendliness", but everybody is entitled to basic respect.

The phrase "spread of knowledge" appears twice, underscoring its importance. I hope everybody agrees that it's ultimately what we are all here for: to spread knowledge and share what we know.

EDIT:

If anybody needs clarifications on anything please let me know in the comment and I will make an edit here (downvotes are not very helpful in helping me understand your disagreement).

A few things that came up in the comments and in the reply by Geek that I think may need clarification.

1. Rate the match:

With this feature everybody can get personalized feeds of new posts according to what they are interested in. Users can help the recommender system by rating the posts in the same way they currently vote on them.

But instead of displaying the scores and counting the votes as rep, under the new system, the votes will simply be used to make future recommendations. The recommender system learns and improves over time, making the recommendations more and more accurate.This way people will no longer have to read through ten posts to get one that is interesting to them (maybe downvoting the rest along the way).

Also, since the votes are not displayed, and don't count towards a single and highly important metric, rep, it will not be a source of distress, tension, and bad user experience.

It will fulfill the requirement that good content rise to the top without hurting or discouraging anybody, because "good" can mean different things to different people. Say a programming post for example, for experts, good content means something precise and efficient, while for beginners, something conceptual and easily understandable.

2. Collectibles:

In my proposal, collectibles are to be used with "rate the match" to replace the existing vote + rep system.

In my lengthy post, I analyzed why people want to come here. Some want the respect of their peers and the approval of their colleagues. Some like to collect points.

The benefit of using various collectibles is that it encourages diversity of metrics.

Yes, I know there are badges, but right now I think they are completely overshadowed by rep.

Imagine two different worlds: in the first one, people judge each other by one single metric, how much money they have, whereas in the second, people use all kinds of metrics (could be things they own or do, like a new gaming console, a cool hat, a vintage bike, a trip to somewhere else in the world ... ), and different people use different metrics.

I don't know about you guys/gals, but I'd prefer to live in the second.

3. My post

While writing all these, I got a comment by @Marshmallow about my tone in the post I wrote. Keep in mind when I wrote it I wasn't planning to share it here. If you are likely to find the ways I say things objectionable, please skip straight to section 4 of that post. The details of my proposals (the best part of the post) are there. Thanks for reading.

4. Ask Ubuntu's supply/demand imbalance

@terdon commented that I may have used the wrong metric when I said: "325,137 questions, 109,451 questions with no upvoted or accepted answers". It's not my metric. It's the metric displayed at the top of the Ask Ubuntu site (apparently the items have since been separated).

I actually have what you might consider a fair metric, just #(answers)/(#questions+#answers) taken annually:

Year    Answer%
---------------
2010    68.31
2011    61.56
2012    60.70
2013    58.70
2014    58.02
2015    57.23
2016    54.62
2017    51.76
2018    48.74

Clear downward trend. Not looking very promising.

5. Rule of law

Let me make it very clear that my post is absolutely NOT a complaint about any moderators. Yeah, I just realized it: mod and mob. LOL. What any of you reads out of the similarity in spelling is completely unintended.

Prior to this post, I never had any experience with any moderators, and I don't think after this post I will run into anything that will involve intervention of a moderator.

To average users, the point of having rule of law is for them to be able to know the rules that are relevant to them, and thus to be able to behave accordingly. This avoids unpleasant surprises.

I am very familiar with all the instructions about asking a good question, and I can't count how many positive examples I have seen here since I first started lurking around many years ago, but I still asked a question that got closed for missing context, on a subject where I am an expert.

Can't imagine how things would be if I were an absolute newbie here.

On important proposal I made in my post is to index the existing decisions buried under years of meta posts, to make it easier for users to find the "law", so that they can behave accordingly. What's wrong with this proposal?

And to really ask some questions (since this is supposed to be a question):

Can anyone tell me, if you find it objectionable when I say SE is lacking rule of law, where do I find a list of all the laws, and what are the "laws" governing how new "laws" are passed?

Additionally, for those from a common law (aka case law) country, or familiar with the common law system, can you please link me to a "case" here on meta or any of the meta sites, tell me (1) what are the facts in the case, and (2) what laws are applied there, and (3) what is the final verdict?

EDIT2:

Just a short edit:

It appears that Mr Geek, by repeatedly quoting me out of context in his reply, has managed to distort my post to such an extent that people reading his summary without going through my original post (like Marshmallow below) are led to completely wrong interpretations of what I wrote.

Although it really was not worth my time from a utilitarian point of view, I felt I had to set the record straight.

To avoid distracting people from the more important things up here, I wrote an answer and let it sink to the bottom.

For those who care about the truth (or want to downvote again), please look under the other posts.

closed as too broad by curiousdannii, The forest of Reinstate Monica, πάντα ῥεῖ, Servy, jonsca Jul 25 at 21:28

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I don't agree with all of these suggestions, but most of your observations do ring true. Thank you for taking the time to share them here! (I've started in on your blog post but will have to finish it after supper) – Shog9 Jul 24 at 1:11
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    Thanks for reading :) – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 1:12
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    I think it's great that someone who hasn't been an active participant in the sites much is willing to share their thoughts on them - thanks! That said, for the purpose of a more focused Meta discussion, you might want to try to distill this post down to a single proposal or central question - right now, it's got a lot of things baked into a single cake, and that's a bit broad, even for Meta. So if you can make your question a bit less broad (sorry for not being able to more specifically articulate how), that would be great. – HDE 226868 Jul 24 at 1:21
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    Ditto what @shog said. Thank you for sharing. – Megan Risdal Jul 24 at 1:22
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    I think you need to seperate different ideas and suggestions for repair into different questions. As it is it's difficult to vote this up nor do I want to vote it down. – Rob Jul 24 at 1:25
  • I know, the things here may look like a bunch of unrelated ideas, but if you spent time going through my lengthy post (section 4 in particular), then you would see they actually go hand in hand with each other. For example, rate the match will help good content rise to the top while preventing people of different interests and expertise from bumping against each other. But without "collectibles", it will not be a complete replacement for the existing system of rep and voting, because lots of people here are highly motivated by the points. – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 2:08
  • Also, I detailed in my post how to "handle differently" askers depending on whether they want to ask for help with their problems or help the community discover something interesting. Those asking for help need to go through a more involved onboarding process learning the rules here than those who simply want to help. But without "rule of law", it will be hard to show them rules that "may be enforced against them so that there are no unpleasant surprises". – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 2:10
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    It's a bit unfortunate that a lot of context to this question is hidden here behind a blog link. Reading your blog post it is clear that a lot of your trouble with the site originates from misconception on how eg moderation works. @JourneymanGeek adresses this in their answer, but it would have been good to not only link to it in your question. – Modus Tollens Jul 24 at 2:44
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    Actually - we were discussing this elsewhere. Kinda the problem here is as a whole - even as it is, it wouldn't fit that well as a question in that form, and even then there's a lot of context missing. Its about the only way to begin to communicate all that as a whole. And honestly - if we were to break it up, it would be a dozen questions with a lot of missing context so at least in that context, it works as long as there's a reference to the original post somewhere – Journeyman Geek Jul 24 at 2:55
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    Is "ratings on match" a concept from somewhere else? It's not something I'm familiar with so it's somewhat confusing to me what you mean by that and, therefore, what your suggestion is for judging answer quality would be. – Catija Jul 24 at 4:45
  • @Catija "ratings on match" is nothing new. For example, when you use google (if you do), you search results are different from mine because all the results are personalized. On a news website, people could be suggested different stories based on their different interests. A click through could be considered "I am interested", or an upvote, while an ignored link could be consider uninteresting to the user (a downvote). – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 6:22
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    Note that your reasoning is wrong about Ask Ubuntu. Your conclusion might be right, mind you, but you're using the wrong metric. You should look at how many questions have answers, not how many have upvoted answers. That many questions don't have upvoted answers indicates a different problem: that people don't vote enough. That isn't necessarily an indication that people don't get answers. Also, as a regular contributor to AU, I'm afraid I need to point out that many of the questions we get are just not answerable because the OP hasn't given enough information. – terdon - stop harming Monica Jul 24 at 8:53
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    Still, you seem to be generalizing a one-off instance as typical behavior on the site. I've had the opposite experience: People insulting me for lack of expertise in a topic, where voting to close their opinion-based or broad question didn't require any expertise in the subject matter at all. And to be honest, it doesn't take much context to understand in what spirit someone writes ". . . afterwards maybe we will become dangerous monsters and dreaded devils". It's unfortunate that you've had such experience, but I doubt anyone has persistently had flawless human interactions all the time. – M.A.R. Jul 24 at 11:13
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    @ThinkingTorus accusations of ill intent on the part of other users (like "deliberately confused") aren't helping. Please watch out for that. – Monica Cellio Jul 25 at 17:50
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    @ThinkingTorus there are a lot of suggestions here and the whole post is hard to read because it's long and then has bolt-on edits. I think you'll get a better reception if you break this up into several focused questions. – Monica Cellio Jul 25 at 17:51
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I kinda disagree with a lot of this.

Admittedly math goes over my head, but I get community.

A few small observations - you're focused on people and personalities over content.

As far as content goes

So my question was "off-topic" and/or "missing context" and/or "possible duplicate", which I struggled for quite a while to make sense of. I eventually decided that "off-topic" was probably due to a wrong template, to ignore "possible duplicate" for the time being, and to focus on "missing context".

In a simple sense - you've assumed you're right and they're wrong. There's often more than one close reason, and if someone closes as a duplicate - there's typically a link, since the point of a duplicate closure is to signpost folks to what ought to be a post with a perfectly good answer. As for "missing context" - folks do want you to show what you've done so far, and what you're working towards so they don't waste your time and theirs going into avenues that are not needed.

Sometimes people post comments suggesting something might be a dupe, or use a dupe close vote as a way to let people know something can be similar enough (In the former case) or already asked, in the latter case.

Before that we are stupid new comers and worthless nuisance (obviously so in the eyes of Angel Eye), afterwards maybe we will become dangerous monsters and dreaded devils?

Uhm... what?

To interject, regarding the initial closing votes, besides these two obviously invalid votes, there was a third one by a student who was, judging by his questions, still learning the basics. I think I made him understand I did not appreciate his participation in the closing process.

Once again though, we're assuming that people don't know how things work, and well, if it's a new person, you might have basically told someone "don't close this because you don't know better" rather than "Ok, I addressed things!"

Moments later, his comment offering to reopen my question disappeared. And I could no longer type his name. Guess I was blocked by him.

He deleted his comment. You can't ping then. We have no context of blocking on the main sites, only in chat.

Now, there's a ton of context missing over the overall interactions, and how folks reacted exactly. We have one side.

But this time, there is a different challenge: I don't think anybody will ever answer my question, or even leave a comment there.

Lots of great questions are unanswered.

Honestly - if it was simple stuff it would get answered quickly. In a broader context, if I have a difficult question that takes a whole lot to answer, that's a good thing.

And not everyone might choose to actively participate on a site. SE's so low friction to sign on, that some folks might sign on without really thinking about it. Some folks passively consume information (a good chunk of my potential SU questions ended up already answered yay!).

There are mechanisms to get eyes on things - some people follow tags, bounties and so on precisely because sometimes a question needs to find the right pair of eyes to be answered.

Some privileged users randomly enforcing some arbitrary rules, some little known resolutions buried under years of meta posts, or simply, their personal tastes. This sums up how the sites are being run.

So here's an amazing thing. We often end up having a passionate core of people who actually end up caring (sometimes a little too much) about their communities. We try to have everything documented on meta, and there are folks who often remember these things and help unearth them as needed. On the other hand, I find in a few cases that you're asking about core mechanics of the site, and occasionally suggesting things we already have.

Problem is, some "laws" are impossible not to enforce arbitrarily without some kind of case law with cases to back up the laws. What is being "kind and friendly", "patient and welcoming", and what is considered "easy" in "make it easy for others to help you"? Everybody has different interpretations.

This is meta. And as a moderator, the community can totally tell me I'm wrong about specific lines in the sand. And honestly - as a living, breathing community made of people, we need to have these conversations whenever needed.

What if everybody in the US had to go through all the minutes of all the congressional sessions since 1776 just to determine what the law says? Do you think there would still be rule of law in this country?

Uhm, the US follows case law. Which means you literally can and should refer to decisions made in various courts. I've talked about it specifically in another post.

Imagine a country where votes by five citizens over some vague charges, say blasphemy, can put someone to death, the same five citizens acting both as judges and as executors.

Well, it's a few more people but... isn't that what a trial by jury is? Ok, not the execution bit. Also, there's various ways to appeal - meta, edits, and flags. The advantage of community moderation is folks who get the system help back up moderators. We can't keep throwing moderators at the problem - elections are high effort and we try to trust users who've shown they get the subject matter to assist, with a spread of users helping mitigate issues.

And you may also be aware of this guy: Ron Maimon.

He has an interesting personality, but causes no harm to the vast population of average users. He contributed a lot of high quality content on Physics SE and other sites, yet was forced to go, because he couldn't play well with the power structure there.

I've heard things. We don't discuss suspensions in general but... from what I heard, high quality isn't really true, and any suspension past a decade tends to get requested by moderators, and vetted and carried out by CMs. This seems a particularly curious thing to pull out.

Trotting this out as an example of mob rule is disingenuous.


Now looking at your suggestions

It will be helpful to let users self classify their questions according to whether they want to get help with their problems, or help the community discover something interesting.

Note it's very wrong to simply assume everybody asking a question here is trying to get help.

We're a Q&A site, not a discussion site. If you have found something cool and want to document it - it's OK to ask and answer your own questions.

For those who choose "getting help with a problem", there should be an onboarding process for first timers

That's the intent of the Q&A wizard on SO. Hopefully we'll see it more widely introduced.

Make sure they have read the relevant rules, especially those that may be enforced against them so that there are no unpleasant surprises.

There's a help and a tour page. You can bring a user to documentation, but can you make him/her read?

If you want to incentivize users to share their knowledge, why not create some badges, tokens, stars, banners, bears, dinos, unicorns, or whatever looks cute or fancy, and award them to users when, for example, they answer a question no one else likes to bother with? They are free for you to give away (aside from a small one time design cost and a little bandwidth), but could create enough utility by themselves for lots of people to want to come and stay. And most importantly, when everybody feels they have plenty, conflicts will reduce, and politics will be lighter.

We have badges incentivising good behaviour. I have a few.

Stop displaying a user's rep along their names.

It has been suggested - and honestly, it is meant to reflect a user's expertise in a subject. It's a massive social change and is unlikely to happen.

Establish an independent committee that arbitrate disputes following established rules. The members may not at the same time act as rule enforcers. An archive of cases should be maintained, and consistent applications of rules in the cases is a must.

Setting rules is as good as enforcing them. And you're basically trying to replace a low overhead, crowdsourced system of case law, with a more Napoleonic, set of purely statutory rules, run by an oligarchy.

We do have moderators and community managers to help communicate with and work with the community.

So... fundamentally? A lot of this has been hashed, rehashed, and... so on.

  • "Low overhead"? I did some analysis on Data explorer. In 2010, on Mathematics, only 5% of the votes were administrative. In 2018, the number is 17% and rising. Also, to quote myself again from your quote: "What if everybody in the US had to go through all the minutes of all the congressional sessions since 1776 just to determine what the law says". And when I suggested badges, the key is "diversity of metrics" instead of a single metric of rep. – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 2:38
  • And please, I asked people to skip section 1 if they don't want to go through the gory details there. Don't bring it up as if it were the focus of my post. And what do you think about ratings on match? – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 2:38
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    @ThinkingTorus uhm. Case law is based on cases in the jurisdiction and others. So in theory, in singapore - we pull in precedents from UK and even indian law. Fundamentally the only problem with that statement is reality is even worse. As for low overhead - we'd need many times the moderators without the "community having mod powers as they earn it" mechanic. Many sites would just have no mods cause we'd be burning them out – Journeyman Geek Jul 24 at 2:43
  • Again, "What if everybody in the US had to go through all the minutes of all the congressional sessions since 1776 just to determine what the law says", that's what it's like looking for rules on SE sites. Sorry have to go. – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 2:46
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    That is exactly how it works in reality. Only worse There's even websites with every single court ruling ever so people can look it up. – Journeyman Geek Jul 24 at 2:48
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    I think Thinking's point is that most of us don't actually bother to do so, @JourneymanGeek - much less need to. – Shog9 Jul 24 at 2:51
  • The real life solution to that problem is having legal experts who can be consulted to answer more obscure questions of law, including research as necessary--not massive changes to how the system works. Perhaps it would be more effective to clarify where people can go for such consultation when needed – sinaraheneba Jul 24 at 5:58
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    @sinaraheneba and that essentially is what meta acts as once you get used to it. Least in theory. – Journeyman Geek Jul 24 at 6:12
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    I think there's a bit of a difference between the rules in the SE help center (easily reviewable) and the whole US congressional record. Sure, the help center is augmented by some stuff on Meta.SE, but the important stuff is linked from the help and if you run afoul of some guideline or rule you didn't know about, it gets pointed out, the problem gets fixed, and we move on. Nobody's going to jail for not knowing about obscure rules here. – Monica Cellio Jul 25 at 17:57
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I said in the comments that I didn't agree with all of your suggestions, so I'd like to focus on a couple of them that I did like:

  • Wind down the existing system of upvotes/downvotes and rep, replace with ratings on match plus collectibles. (Existing rep should convert to a special collectible so that high rep users can continue to enjoy their status.)

    We are so close to this already with badges... We just aren't doing much with them, but the Candidate Score that we show during elections suggests how we could have a much more well-rounded user card, one that didn't just focus on reputation but rather on the many different ways in which folks can contribute positively here.

  • Replace "comments" with "suggest an improvement" and "I have something to add", which have clear purposes and encourage constructive feedback (and allow criticism to be be viewed more favorably by the receiving end).

    Yes. We've actually tested this - and it works! We just need to do it everywhere, for real.

Your full post hits on a lot more rough edges and low-hanging fruit (including some, like using "off-topic" for what should more properly be termed "needs more info", that have been lamented here in the past). And that's probably where we need to start: cleaning up the hundreds of little snags that discourage and mislead folks, each a small annoyance but creating in aggregate a primarily disappointing experience. What you've written functions effectively as a set of friction logs, detailing the ways in which you could have avoided problems if the system had better supported you.

Thanks for taking the time to write all that!

  • Thanks for trying to make things better!!! I appreciate what you did. (ahh, can't upvote!) Note my proposal about "suggest an improvement" also involves changing the way a comment is presented to the user receiving it. "Someone has suggested an improvement" would look nicer to the receiving end. But this is not super important. I am more worried that given the general aversion towards change among the established users, all these would be forever "close" but not "for real". Maybe try on a new site? And if they work, then move on to smaller sites, then bigger sites ... – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 10:36
  • Also, have you guys tried personalized recommendations? If so, what was the reaction/result? – Thinking Torus Jul 24 at 10:37
  • I have noticed the change "improve this question". Thanks for doing this. – Thinking Torus Jul 25 at 5:55
  • Shog9, I am sure you have seen all kinds of things here. Can you help me understand this? <meta.stackexchange.com/posts/331325/timeline> Is that mod pushing the limit to try to shut me up or is it something completely normal and expected, even on meta? – Thinking Torus Jul 25 at 6:00
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    "We just need to do it everywhere, for real." Please do ;p – Journeyman Geek Jul 25 at 15:15
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I've read your article, but I didn't read the post though, as I found it an concise version of the mentioned. But if you added something to the post, please be so kind to correct me.

First of all, I agree with most points. Some solutions seem drastic or not beneficial in long term... after all there isn't an system in this world that isn't corrupted by a human.

But I agree on the point that Stack Overflow needs to evolve. The direction of evolution and structure of the same is an complex matter, but I would need to place an historical timeline of evolution of society hierarchy for us to be on the same page:

In first, we had something along of familiar group. A group of less than 15 people who defined a community, in modern terms it is akin to neighborhoods, collective living or even parts of the society. This is the group that we are most accustomed to, where safety lies. The peace lives here.

Next evolution step is bonding of 2+ familiar groups into a larger whole [an tribe]. The population ranges from 100-500 and often you have 1 dominant leader role, but that role is tied to well being to the populus. Peace still lives here.

After that, where more groups bond together, some hierarchy needs to be established [village]. Often than not every leader role from each larger whole is representing the society they come from, grouping under dominant leader for village. Current toll for population raises from 1000 to 20 000 up to 100 000. And here is where things get interesting. Ranks and differentiation between society is defined for the first time to establish an credibility and to put more leniency towards old members to ease their fear. More stuff you did for the benefits of the society, more you were rewarded and more power you held. But peace still lives here.

This is the turning point, where growth is still following the pattern but due to shear power in less frequency larger wholes, tribes and familiar groups start joining the polis. Here there is direct threat to the community (sometimes just preserved, sometimes real) to their way of life, to their collective power. And here is where peace don't live. The main issue is subjugate or conjugate. Members who have established power, often tend to keep it by enforcing it in various different means, but the enforcing it isn't bad thing, nor is it the way they enforce it. Collective isn't sustainable by its current ruling regime. So it is forced to adapt or dissolve.

This is the turning point where power isn't shown as good/evil, but simply bad. And the reason why it is bad isn't to the original concept. It is because society has outgrown itself.

Stack Overflow is at this point. And if we've learned anything from history is that polises grew into megalopolises, then to countries than to federations and eventually to the world, but that change is bloody.

Let me try to answer or give my opinion to each and every point of your argument:

Math problem:

To be honest, English isn't my first language (and I hate when people say this), so I didn't figure out what you were saying at first. It took some repetitive reading for me to fully digest it.

The main reason your question was flagged wasn't due to the complexity, or due to information needed to understand it. In general we as people are lazy, and search the road more traveled. Such road is easy, safe but it doesn't award as with unique knowledge and skill. You, my friend, are the one who wishes to travel the road less taken. It is an lonesome road, and many "bushes" lie ahead.

In Jung's Archetypes: the more people are in society the more watered down their goal is (an direct continuation to Freud's beliefs). To put it bluntly, you may be in society where knowledge is sought for, I may be in society where knowledge is exclusive, some other user might be in society where knowledge is protected. But when all our societies muster up, the overall goal is (when we account for laziness) is knowledge for least effort. Sprinkle on that some "voice of the mass" and you get people downvoting your question just because it was downvoted before, and not having courage to stand by their choice since choice was made for them (by society).

Having felt this on my own skin, many times here and in my life, I can say that being in the cross hairs of bad side of society isn't pleasant. But that same MO of the society is what gives us easy and straight for solutions to the burning questions, since no one wants not to sleep, not to eat or don't have social life to figure out all life's questions. Resulting in our societies best and worst trait: compound knowledge.

Since even an unnecessary study on "how forks are made" can result in pretty large changes later on, means that every contribution to global knowledge is unnecessary and necessary by default. At least as a guide on what not to do.

And here is where AngelEye, Blondy and Taro come forth.

From Angels point of view, he did his job. He skimmed over the question (with the least effort) grabbed the global gist, and in line of all duplicate questions, and probably very exhausting day, he decided that is good enough for the "duplicate". Taro later on followed through, didn't read the question, went to comments, saw the link, and downvoted it again.

To AngelEye his job was done, he finished his quota for the day to stay relevant, and there was no need for him to dive a bit further into the matter.

To Blondie she (or he) didn't want to stir the pot, so s/he gave you an "a general" no answer answer in a polite manner (which was music to your eyes), and you started doubting yourself. But s/he still didn't do anything to correct AngelEye in the chat.

Taro did what most people did, and followed the flow. But when you confronted him, a small doubt passed trough his mind, of not him being wrong, but him not reading the question. And tried to supply remedy to his own question.

After Angel Eye was nasty to you (due to him feeling annoyed and threatened), Taro got confirmation from society, Blondie went silent. And no matter what ... you were done for.

My opinions

I don't think each of these users were right, I personally think that your question was valid one, I don't agree with policy these members inforce. But I also can't judge them, or blame them. I hate to be the devil's advocate here, but I think this is the symptom of the disease not the disease itself. I don't think any of you did anything wrong, it is just result of society collapsing on itself.

People aren't bad, people like to be comfortable, and to many (even the most ambitious ones) like to take an easy route. I've heard before that "road to hell is paved with good intentions" and that "all that it takes is for good person to do nothing" but we are all slaves of this in some aspects of our lives. Aggression is response to the lack of power, so it is obvious that you would become aggressive in response (even passive aggressive), to try to get some power back. And it is totally logical that Angel Eyes would respond in aggression in kind. But to solve that issue all it would take is to step away and be kind, realising that no one is actually in danger of any kind. You can always make an new account, and those users can not lose everything over 1 complaint.

Ask Ubuntu, answers nobody

This is the matter of communication before all. We need to ask ourselves why would someone do trough all that trouble, to make an account (or connect Facebook with it), search for question in 1 minute, write a whole paragraph and then leave?

*The first thing is, Google probably didn't give it answer the user wanted. Quick click and some time later the user became "new contributor", then went to Ask a question, skimmed over plethora of information the website bombarded him with. Start to type a question, saw a bunch of other answers listing down. Then took a notice to read the titles, found that they have no relevance to his/hers own question. Posted a question (which was probably a "duplicate"), got some comments which were cold and dumbfounded and then left, frustrated, aggressive.

A few days later, he came back (mostly due to curiosity) and to his/hers overjoyment someone had left the answer. The user tried to ask another question in broken English, saw comments above and gave up... completely to the community and even solving his/hers problem.*

It is a lot of work for ask and go, isn't it? This then prompted you to do some research (no motivator as good as anger, right ? :P) which in my uneducated opinion just proves my postulate right.

My Opinions

The main issue isn't that the user left. It is that the user didn't return back. Which means that hers/his problem wasn't solved (even if you solved it), and that large amount of work didn't yield the result, so the user wasn't motivated to return back to ask another question. This could be solved with valid organisation, so new users can quickly find their answers (and not generate duplicates) and then stick around if they want to ask another question. We need to clear the clutter up. Period. After that we can probably see (due to more valid answers popping in Google Search) an return of prodigal sons, daughters and all other unicorns.

The problem: the user base has grown, but the system has not.

Ow, I completely agree with this, and to me it seems natural. Albeit the factor of overexpansion is something tied to the global Internet market (and Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Turks ....), this was bound to happen, and it will happen again.

The way I saw this sub topic, was more as issue with power than in expansion (although it is correlative). And your prison allegory did make me chuckle.

Law... the issue of laws lies within constitution. To all who don't know, a constitution is like a bedrock of every country. Every law passed, amended, broken or made must follow back on the constitution. The premise is good, but it has a lots of issues. First constitutions are period centric (so amendments are bound to happen). Also, as with anything, often they grow and change to such proportion that it is just matter of time that it needs to be rewritten as a whole (American Revolution, Revolution in France, Spanish Revolution, English Revolution, Magna Carta Libertatum, Tabula Rasa, etc.) all have a result of a new look on life and what basic rights are. And since basic principles (modern constitution) are so basic, it is really hard to change them... I mean really hard.

Since we are approaching a global society on the Internet, I would very much advise against it. Why follow bad examples from history? Our rules need to be ever changing, fluid and easily manipulated dependencies that will assure that they can easily change according to the their place in society. This might be some forward thinking, but I wouldn't like to have this conversation every day for a year with no solution, or do it again in 20 years. Call me lazy or whatever.

My opinion

I think the main issue that underlies the need for a law isn't the governing the society is distribution of the power, and if I might be so quirky: Why not remove it as a whole?

The way current behaviour is of this website, is branching out, combining more and more societies in the one, giving a lot of knowledge and making more and more independent (but connected) groups. But users are part of many sub societies, and if we introduce power there (in form of rank, reputation, badges ...) the imbalance of power is gonna happen. Users who spend more time as investment into this website will grab more power, then you have an old safe guard of people with desire to be awarded for their time, and those rewards need to have some heft to them. Then again you have people who will try to do the same, but be new and frightful ... and the circle continues... on and on.

Then developers to ease the masses would produce a new ranking system, in form of kittens, and so on and so on. I would recommend, removing ranks, titles, and everything.

This is anarchy!! you might say. Sort of; it probably will be a confusing time in start. But in the end you will have people being careful and cleaning after themselves because they don't have a moderator to do it for them. Anyone who moved away from home, knows the feeling when it hits you that dirty dishes won't clean themselves, like before. God bless our parents! <3

Economy bias, from economical stand point neither supply or demand have precedence over another. The market is defined as relationship between them, so if you have high supply but low demand you are in deflation, reverse of that is inflation. Optimal states define something such as risk factor, and information trading. Any market is closed circle, and it relies on itself to exist, it will not evolve or benefit itself but it is prone to infinite loops. But knowledge is cumulative, and once everything is clear new knowledge can come and stir things up. That would be like having supply, demand and a drunk uncle who drops by dressed as Santa. Sometimes it is Christmas, other times it is just weird.

From a historical standpoint, at least on Europe, knowledge went from deflation (Greece) to inflation (Dark Ages) and now coming to deflation again. Availability of resources define the value of the item. So if knowledge is in abundance, it is disregarded, if it is scarce it is exclusive. Some "booms" in knowledge did happen across history but they are often tied to the optimal states (in economic terms).

Instead of thinking about it in economical sense, I would suggest looking at is in form of an well organised library. Once all is clear, holes in knowledge can be easily filled and built upon.

How to improve the system

Separation or segregation is never an good choice, no matter how angry, scared or frustrated you are. Times change, and from segregation based on physical strengths (men plow the fields, and women manage the household) went and became Frankenstein in form of patriahart and matriahart. Separation does makes sense, in current time and current context... but it can generate such issues as generating new follow up rules that will naturally make one side more difficult to manage.

(c)the joy of helping others

Nice thought. How about this, instead of onboarding process ... how about a pin board? Make all easy and most asked question easily searchable, so people who "Take" can take several times before actually stopping and being thankful becoming valid members of society. Aka make the website be useful on the way user wants to use it, be it independent from society, and only if user willingly chooses to be part of the society ... hell more the merrier.

(d) the respect of their peers, and (e) the approval of their colleagues:

Completely agree with this paragraph. No if buts or whens. What if, say, ten high school students upvote an answer while one professor casts a downvote. Is this answer correct or not? Amen, albeit I would lose ranks /reps at all... but I am that way. It doesn't mean I am right.

Conclusion

In the gist, I agree with you. And I would just argue for all of us to step back, and try to find the most rotten, sick, ugly tree in our shiny green forest. Find the root cause of most/if not all issues. I am scared that if we were to approach each symptom of the disease we would never actually cure it.

Internet societies are new in this word, no society has existed before in such magnitude. It is normal that we would try and project our current society onto it, which is then logical for it to suffer from same ailments.

But stepping away from road more taken is scary (even for me while I am writing this).

Many faults of this approach are not having immediate results, taking the time to grow and adjust.

While benefits are tied to well showing by example, and if it is given enough time, investment into the future is not present.

I know this seems as some ideological thinking, to be honest - it is. But we have a choice here (if not here, some other platform that will over take this one in some point in future) change, or stop moving.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Everyone who commented here can use that room, regardless of rep, so please continue your conversation there. – Monica Cellio Jul 26 at 3:23
  • 1
    What is "patriahart" and "matriahart"? – Peter Mortensen Aug 3 at 0:48
  • Patriarhart is an term meaning society is govern by families with male dominant figure, matriarhart is similar but with female dominant figure. Both have been present trough history, and I've mentioned this in context that if we have subjugated side that rises in power it would recreate an same (sometimes exactly) governing society with no major difference. Something that starts as an equal rights movement often grows out of that cause , and settles in already familiar patterns. – Danilo Aug 3 at 22:55
  • 1
    Isn't it called patriarchy and ,atriarchy? – Martin Aug 6 at 5:30
  • To be completely honest i've often used both to describe an global movement ( patriarchy / matriarchy ) and in nominal form ( to describe an single generic structure ) patriarhat and matriarhat. But that are colloquial terms i've heard and used in my day to day life, i am not quite sure how it translates to English or in modern vocabulary. So there is a possibility that there is an equal or derivative verison in English , for which i would be very thankful if someone could correct me. – Danilo Aug 6 at 10:48
-7

As I said many times: I'd rather not dwell on the unpleasant experience I used to motivate my proposals (bad idea!). I even started my lengthy post telling people to skip it if they don't want to go through the gory details.

But since Journeyman Geek (with a diamond) took many things out of context and put them in the worst light possible, making me look like a bitter and unreasonable person (and I bet most of you don't want to bother going through my 7000 word post, only a small part of which is about my bad experience), I'd like to set the record straight here.

Journeyman Geek quoted me:

Before that we are stupid new comers and worthless nuisance (obviously so in the eyes of Angel Eye), afterwards maybe we will become dangerous monsters and dreaded devils?

Why did I feel I was treated like "worthless nuisance" by Angel Eye?

I politely asked for his feedback on my edit in an attempt to improve my question and make it "in context", which took me an afternoon to finish. (If anybody thinks "Can you please take a look at my edit and let me know what you think about it? Thanks" is impolite, please let me know.)

I left two comments, and one message in the chatroom, which I do not consider excessive, given that I waited many hours while he was obviously online.

Then when he finally got back to me, his first line was:

Stop pinging me from all over the network!

Then he went on:

I don't care about your question any more! It was missing context. After the edit, it's still missing context. It's a poor question. I voted to close your question. I am glad I did. ...

That is why I felt I was treated like "worthless nuisance".

As to "dreaded devils", note that the complete quote should be (don't know why Mr Geek chose to leave out the previous line):

I don't know if I give a talk titled How to catch a downvoter, whether it will help to improve the situation of "new contributors". Before that we are stupid new comers and worthless nuisance (obviously so in the eyes of Angel Eye), afterwards maybe we will become dangerous monsters and dreaded devils? Don't know which is better.

There was another guy, who I referred to as Tuco in my post, who voted to close my question, and then voted again to keep it closed after my extensive edit which took me an entire afternoon, leaving no feedback whatsoever. But when I caught him further downvoting my question and confronted him, he quickly changed position.

This is what happened.

I left a comment under one of his old post:

Did you just downvote my question?

He was obviously taken by surprise, and quickly replied:

I will vote to reopen your question.

So I asked him whether he was going by some standards or just voting arbitrarily?

He quickly deleted his comment and stopped responding, which made me feel I had become a dreaded devil, scaring him by catching him red-handed, then troubling him about principles, which he obviously did not have, as a privileged SE user or as a human being.

Journeyman Geek remarked:

you're focused on people and personalities over content.

what "personalities"?

Turo quickly changing his position? The keyword here is "ethics".

Angle Eye refusing to admit mistake while acting like I was a worthless nuisance? The keyword here is "ego".

I am not complaining about their personalities. This is the line from my post that Mr Geek neglected to quote:

The problem is not that there are bad people. The problem is, in a bad system, good people become bad. If you guys are trying to repeat the Stanford Prison Experiment on your sites, then you are probably doing very well, at least on Math SE.

The "you guys" addresses the folks working for SE.

And please take a moment to read about the Stanford Prison Experiment on Wikipedia if you are not aware of it.

And what "content"?

Journeyman Geek questioned my questioning of the validity of the votes. Let me get this straight: "a student who was, judging by his questions, still learning the basics" is a different person from the Tuco I just talked about, whose "comment offering to reopen my question disappeared."

Mr Geek with a diamond, you got them mixed up your honor!

Why I question the validity of Tuco's vote should need no more explanation (or my faith in the people here would shatter completely).

Why I question the validity of the student's vote is simple: when you have advanced knowledge in a field, you can judge those who are beginners, but not the other way around. Some countries experimented with the opposite and those experiments ended horribly.

Why I question the validity of Angel Eye's vote is detailed in my post: he made a mathematically incorrect determination of the nature of my question, stubbornly pursued it despite his fellow's objection, and didn't want to admit he made a mistake. Note we are talking about mathematical correctness here. It's not something political.

Again: I don't want to go over the specifics of my bad experience any more. I am not asking for a trial or arbitration. I should not have opened the can of worms in the first place.

We all have better things to do.

What I tried to do is to motivate my proposals using my personal experience, following Sara's example. Bad idea!

Now, I'd still like to respond to a few points in Journeyman Geek's reply that I consider problematic (especially for someone with a diamond who "tries" the cases here).

Journeyman Geek quoted me:

I eventually decided that "off-topic" was probably due to a wrong template

then he remarked:

In a simple sense - you've assumed you're right and they're wrong.

I didn't want to assume anything!!! I politely asked people for feedback but no one, not a single person among those who voted to close my question and keep it closed, gave me any feedback whatsoever. That is my point.

I didn't assume I was right! I HAD TO make a guess.

I ended up being right about their intended "missing context", but still couldn't get my question reopened. I didn't find out until I talked to a decent person in the chat and he told me the "off-topic" template is used because it's the only one that's customizable, allowing for "missing context" and other things.

No one told me this when they put that notice there and just assumed I would figure out. How many newbies would spend the time and effort figuring this out?

And all these just so that I could share my proof there, to answer my own question. (A short one liner summary of the story for those still wondering: I asked for a proof, figured out myself, wanted to share it, but question got put on hold, tried to remove the hold, didn't make it).

Journeyman Geek quoted me:

Imagine a country where votes by five citizens over some vague charges, say blasphemy, can put someone to death then he remarked: Well, its a few more people but... isn't that what a trial by jury is?

No Mr Geek, trial by jury means trial following established laws, under the court's guidance, by a group of candidates selected using proper statistical sampling so as to form a fair representation of the general population, with potentially problematic candidates weeded out by lawyers before trial, such that there is guilty verdict if and only if all jurors agree. At least in the US, this is what trial by jury means. Still, trial by jury can can have a lot of downsides, for example, bias caused by influence of the media. Guess that's why Singapore stopped doing it?

You are talking about trial by some pedestrians who happen to walk by, with no court, no need to reference laws and no need for consensus.

Different things I am afraid.

Journeyman Geek quoted me:

But this time, there is a different challenge: I don't think anybody will ever answer my question, or even leave a comment there.

But that's not the point. That's merely there for the next sentence:

Here are the current counts: 325,137 questions 109,451 questions with no upvoted or accepted answers

And this leads to a lot of things: newbies not interacting with the community properly because they are incentivized not to stay, the economy has a supply/demand imbalance, and so on.

By the way, Journeyman Geek, who is an expert on the legal system here judging by his comment "It's worth thinking of SE as a place where the rules are somewhat like the British legal system. " and his multiple comments about the case law system below his answer, has led me to hope that he would help me understand the "laws" here.

To quote Journeyman Geek:

We try to have everything documented on meta, and there's folks who often remember these things and help unearth them as needed. On the other hand, I find in a few cases that you're asking about core mechanics of the site, and occasionally suggesting things we already have.

But, so far, no answers to my questions:

Where do I find a list of all the laws, and what are the "laws" governing how new "laws" are passed?

Can you please link me to a "case" here on meta or any of the meta sites, tell me (1) what are the facts in the case, and (2) what laws are applied there, and (3) what is the final verdict?

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