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Recently, it was announced that the "Hot on Meta" questions would no longer show up on the SO sidebar. Sara Chipps elaborated a little bit on why:

Stack Overflow Employees have panic attacks and nightmares when they know they will need to post something to Meta. They are real human beings that are affected by the way people speak to them. [...] I can’t sleep at night knowing that we are forcing people to participate here as part of their jobs.

We're removing Hot on Meta as I don't want to send new people to a place where people have these experiences. Full stop.

And she added in the comments (later moved to chat):

[...]the psychological safety for employees is the reason for moving our communications to the blog from Meta.

It seems like the company is under the impression that meta as a whole is toxic to everybody, and so wants to discourage people participating there. At least, I don't see any other way that there would be a connection between meta figuratively eating employees alive and removing the Hot Meta Posts list, which is for community members to find what's happening on meta.

I believe that the company is basing this on the... less than ideal experiences that Stack Overflow staff have on meta on those occasions where they must post to meta.

I don't want to discuss whether or not removing the Hot Meta Posts was the right move; that's a discussion for another place. What I want to get into here is the underlying reasons why Stack Overflow staff have such bad experiences, and what we might be able to do to mitigate that.


With the exception of the dedicated, understaffed, and overworked Community Manager team, most Stack Overflow employees lately (the last year or so, possibly a drop longer) have had their posts greeted with what is often an extremely negative response - with the posts receiving half a thousand downvotes, hundreds of complaining comments, and dozens of answers going "you did bad".
I believe the current issue with such negative responses can be traced at least back to when Joe Friend was posting about the design changes that were coming to the network. People were, understandably, upset, and they made staff very aware of this. This is, from what I've seen, roughly when the current trend of employees getting extremely negative receptions began.

And, in all likelihood, is a large part of why it began.
To get a better understanding of why and how this caused the current situation, we'll need to take yet another step back and take a look at the context of the couple years before that.

A Not-So-Short History Lesson

For quite a while, it felt like Stack Exchange (the platform) was stagnating - not the content, but any development and improvement of the features of the core Q&A feature. Sure, there were tweaks, but it felt like on the whole, Q&A was a "finished" product. Users were asking, and answering, and moderating, and getting by with what they had. There were things that could be improved, and things that were breaking and held together by duct tape - such as the close vote review queue, or the new user onboarding process - but there didn't really seem to be any chance of changes. Stack Overflow, on the business side, was focused on Jobs and Enterprise.

Then, two years ago (July 2017), came something really exciting: The DAG team! The point of the DAG team was to work on improving on Q&A and help it in this stage of its life. There were lots of familiar faces there, along with a bunch of new ones. It held a ton of potential, and people were very excited - maybe we'd finally be able to overhaul the "Ask a Question" page and prevent new users from getting stuck so often in posting questions! Maybe we'd be able to finally sort out the problems with the huge review backlogs! The possibilities were nearly endless.
We waited eagerly for updates. They were rare. And when they came, it was mostly concentrated on Meta.SO, hidden from the rest of the network. Still, at least it was something.

And then... disaster struck. In November 2017, Stack Overflow abruptly let go of a large percentage of its staff - including large swaths of the relatively new DAG team. People were devastated - not only were some of the most familiar faces around the network suddenly not around anymore, but now who was going to do the work that we were all so excited about?

A couple months went by, and the dust started to settle. I had accepted that the changes that we'd been waiting for were probably not going to happen now.
But then... rumors. Channels. Private Q&A for small groups. Could it be?

It was. Teams came, which included the good news of Q&A getting some improvement also - it hadn't been completely thrown out like I'd thought after all! This was confirmed by the posting of Ch-ch-ch-changes: Left nav, responsive design, & themes (and the fact that I was in the Channels / Teams beta). Some of the excitement came back - it wasn't exactly what we'd wanted, but at least they were doing something, right? After they'd done all their fiddling with the responsive design and stuff, they'd get back to helping us with the problems we had, right? Right? ...right?

Nope. That's not how the next few months went. At all.

A lot of stuff happened in early 2018 - all at roughly the same time, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. The way I see it, there were two main things that happened, all of which were made of lots of smaller parts:

  • design changes

    First of all, in preparation for the responsive design, the sites were getting re-designed. This in the first place made a lot of people very angry, because the redesign for a lot of sites consisted of, from their point of view, completely stripping down their theme and turning it... really basic. I'll readily admit I'm still sore over the design that Science Fiction & Fantasy ended up with - a pale reflection of the once grand design it had previously.
    And the worst part of this wasn't that the redesigns were happening - it's that it felt that our feedback was being totally ignored. With a few exceptions (Worldbuilding robot, yay!), on the whole it felt that SE was just moving forward without taking into account the feedback they were getting from their users. Of course, this isn't true - but it was a very prevalent attitude due to the lack of visible responses.

  • the Welcome Wagon began

    That attitude - the feeling of being ignored - became very much more prevalent as soon as something else happened. Something on the site was brought to the attention of someone with admirable goals - to better the web for especially women and other unrepresented groups in tech. Something on Stack Overflow was brought to her attention, and through Twitter, she made her displeasure known.

And Stack Overflow (the company) reacted. Quickly. And strongly.

Due to a few Twitter threads, Stack Overflow quickly took action, determined to keep a good public face. Posts were made about keeping comments civil, and chat, a new Code of Conduct was written...

And thus, (the current iteration of) the Welcome Wagon was born.

(Note: I'm not saying that the new policies on chat, comments etc were a bad thing. Quite the opposite. They were in fact long overdue. The issue was that it was sparked by a Twitter thread, instead of internal discussion.)


The Welcome Wagon

The Welcome Wagon is the name of Stack Overflow's drive to make the site less "unwelcoming". It aims to cut back on "toxicity", make the site more friendly for everyone, and help everything remain civil.
Sounds great, no? On the surface, it seemed like nothing could go wrong with such a project.

One of the priorities of the project was to cut back on the negative effect of toxic comments and such for new users. Stack Overflow had always had a reputation for being "cliquey" and was "gatekeeping". It was time to change that.

Except... there was a problem here. Who was doing this "gatekeeping" - and so, who was being blamed for being "unwelcoming"? It was the power users - the ones who spent hours of their day answering questions, reviewing other people's posts, editing, flagging, and keeping the site clean. It's the 0.015% who were keeping the site running who were now being turned on by the very site that they poured out their sweat and blood for and being told that they were responsible for being "toxic" and "unwelcoming".

Take a moment and look at it from their perspective.

For years, you have been working on cleaning up an oil drip out of a beautiful lake with a spoon, but the small spoon you have is actually a fork. You've spent years asking for at least a spoon to work with, but have gotten nothing. For some reason, though, you keep at it with the fork, for different reasons - some are the people next to you also working with forks, some are the occasional diamond that you can clean and set and make nice - all for free and out of your own time.
Then, one day, someone cuts down all of the trees surrounding the lake. You try to stop them, but they are deaf to your pleas. All the trees are suddenly gone, and you're left feeling like nobody listens to you. The lake is no longer the same beautiful lake it was, but you keep working at it.
Then, a week later, the lake starts shouting at you about how the fork you're using is being unfair to the oil - that you're being too unwelcoming to the oil and not treating it properly, completely ignoring the fact that you've been using a fork and have been asking for better tools for years. The lake slaps you anyway.

This is roughly how the power users were feeling at this point in time - roughly summer 2018 at this point. Understandably, a lot of people were quite frustrated (and I'll readily admit I was not happy with the situation either). Many people left - which didn't exactly make things easier.


This is the feeling that a lot of people were left with after summer 2018, a year ago. Along with this came a large distrust for staff. They'd been burned by staff too many times. They had been ignored, beaten up, and yet were still expected to continue producing the water that the lake needed and depended on, so to speak, for free.


A bit later, in October 2018, a single Twitter post caused Interpersonal Skills to be kicked out of the HNQ for months. A single Tweet caused a massive change that killed off 80% of the site's traffic, without any communication with the community - or even an announcement that it has happened. It was only discovered because I happened to see the relevant thread on Twitter and mentioned it in chat that IPS was now off the HNQ.

graph showing drop in site traffic for HNQ

This finally made things very clear. Stack Exchange cared more about how they're perceived by a single person on Twitter than what effect making a change like that would have on a site, and didn't care enough about the community to even let the general IPS community know about the change.

In the end, this led to some very positive changes - months later, IPS was reinstated to the HNQ, after the HNQ itself received a long-overdue update, including the ability for mods to kick a question off the HNQ - but that didn't change the fact this all this was kicked off by a single Tweet, instead of the literal years of requests to fix the HNQ made by the crowd of power users that provided the backbone of the SE network - all the content that SE relies on to attract people to their sites.


Since then, there has been an even more severe distrust of staff. The prevailing feeling is that Stack Exchange no longer cares what its users think. The power users had been making requests for help in improved tooling to sustain things for years, and SE didn't do a thing - and instead then bit them for the way they'd been going around things. SE was not listening at all to what people were saying on meta, and cared more about people who didn't even use the sites. Later, the ad fiasco and front page issues caused even more lost trust.

And so, people started reacting very badly to the staff's posts. SE hadn't only lost all trust - they'd lost all respect that people had for them, too. People started being more snarky and condescending and toxic to staff, because of the way they'd been treated by staff. As a result of the negativity, staff withdrew largely from meta sites and took a more backseat role, leaving the only communication with the users to the overworked CM team.


And then, a different problem started. Because of the lack of interaction from the staff, new staff members in particular ended up being completely unaware of site culture and nuances, and had no idea how to use meta. This ended up in scrapes, especially when these hapless new staff members were bearers of (to the meta audience) bad news. The fact that staff members posting was now such a rare event didn't help - because of the rarity of the event, people piled on more in order to have staff hear what they had to say.

And because of the sheer number of people piling on, it no longer mattered how polite these people commenting were being. As Sara herself pointed out recently, once enough people are piling on to complain or tell you what's wrong with what you did, you're going to feel attacked - even if every single comment is worded politely and respectfully.


And so here we are. On the one hand, we've got a handful of bitter, angry, beaten up and ignored core users, who do all the moderation of the site and provide a large percentage of the answers that makes Stack Exchange what it is. On the other hand, we have poor unsuspecting staff who are getting piled on by those above users simply because a.) they're bearing bad news and b.) they're staff.

This is untenable.

All that this is doing is making things even worse between staff and users. We need to resolve the problem on both sides - blaming just one side is not going to do anything, like the post I quoted at the beginning.


How do we begin to resolve this?

So I believe I've identified the core issue here: Neither side has respect or trust left for the other. What we have to do, then, is to start by rebuilding some bridges.

SE is currently working on improving some of the mod and high rep tools. This is a good start. However, it's been mostly stuff like the mod dashboard or the tag synonym system, which, while not unimportant, are not exactly the most pressing moderation-related tooling issues.

If SE wants to try to mend relationships with its power users and regain some trust, the current best way to do that, in my opinion, would be, as a gesture of good faith, to work with the community on an issue that has been going on for years: The close vote queue.
Key here, though, are the words "work with the community". This is the most important part - even if it's not the close vote queue that is getting worked on.

Having Stack Exchange work with the community on a project that would benefit everybody, while listening and responding to feedback on the best ways to go about this, will help tremendously in regaining trust and respect for SE.

Work on a project that has been ignored for far too long. The review queue issue is not only constrained to Stack Overflow, where users are refusing to review in protest - English Language & Usage as well as English Language Learners are both suffering from stuffed-up review queues as well. Or if it's not the close vote queue, something else. Doesn't matter. The important part is that Stack Exchange shows the community that they are willing to listen, willing to work with the community, ready to acknowledge their mistakes, and move forwards.
As an example of a good way of moving forward with this, see Megan Risdal's post at The world is big and I am SO small. What are the implications for our meta community with the changes in Stack Overflow?. This is a good step forward; it shows a clear desire to work with the community and gives concrete examples on how. We need more of this - and not just in a single post on Meta Stack Overflow, but also on Meta.SE, for the entire network. Staff and users need to work more closely together to redevelop trust and respect.

There will still be people who will attack staff members. This is where the moderators come in. There are moderators here on Meta.SE now - there are people to handle this stuff. There are 26 moderators on Stack Overflow who can handle deleting comments. Talk to the moderators - they're willing to help. Stack just needs to communicate more with the people who keep their sites running, and work together with them. Let them know that you value their input, not ignoring them in favor of the people who come to post 1-line "I'm having this issue too" and then complain because it's unfriendly that we deleted it.

I'd go so far as to suggest that Stack Exchange let the mods know if they're going to be posting something that might be controversial. Possibly even announce seemingly minor feature changes and collect feedback before they go live. Have the mods keep an eye on the comments - strictly deleting ones that aren't asking clarification or ones that are rude. But simply hiding and refusing to engage with the community of people who spend their free time cleaning up your site for free is not going to be sustainable.
Employees and users need to interact more. They need to learn on both sides that the others are human as well, and doing the best they can with what they have. More interaction is the key, not less. It shouldn't be a rare sight to see a staff member post on meta. I'd suggest that new employees even hang out in, say, the Teachers' Lounge and get a feel for the people before trying to engage on meta - because it'll take a while until SE earns back the trust and respect they lost. It will take quite a while before people are ready. But the sooner that Stack Overflow as a company takes steps to address the problems they've been ignoring - and thus making worse - for years, causing the loss of respect, the sooner people will be able to start the mending process.


Further reading:

The Stack Overflow I wish to build and participate in is no longer supported on Meta Stack Overflow
Declaring a Review strike until efficiency improvements are implemented on Meta Stack Overflow
The world is big and I am SO small. What are the implications for our meta community with the changes in Stack Overflow? on Meta Stack Overflow
Require Participation in a Community Before Making Decisions that Affect That Community's Future on Meta Stack Overflow
What caused this site to be excluded from Hot Network Questions? on Meta Interpersonal Skills
What changes have resulted from SE network sites becoming a source of income? on Meta Stack Exchange
If 95%+ of comments have been rated as "fine", does the site deserve its reputation of "unwelcoming"? Do we still need to focus on it? on Meta Stack Exchange
What are the effective communication channels for effecting change to SE? on Meta Stack Exchange
New home page makes it seem like SO doesn't allow free use any more on Meta Stack Overflow
Ads on SE sites are excessively animated, irrelevant, dubious and resource-intensive on Meta Stack Exchange

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    I think you did a great job at objectively, as best as you can, describing what happened and came with a great analysis. This really resonates with me. Also I'd love to hear from anyone from the company how they perceived all these events, as I value hearing two sides of the story. Because describing things is one, but how things are perceived could be an entire different story. – Luuklag Jul 29 at 9:34
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    the matter of "0.015%" has a dedicated discussion at MSO which is probably worth mentioning – gnat Jul 29 at 9:55
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    If someone is feeling so strongly about a post that they can’t comment or answer without letting their emotions dictate the tone, consider taking a walk or making a cup of tea instead. Feedback doesn’t have to be given immediately, and I find that a bit of reflection can really help improve how I shape feedback. Next, things don’t need to be repeated over and over again; if someone has already given feedback you agree with, use votes instead. – Martijn Pieters Jul 29 at 12:42
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    To borrow from nightwish - this is someone lighting a candle rather than cursing the dark. If folks are saying that relentless negativity is a problem and someone puts in... Well a monumental amount of effort into constructive criticism, maybe it's worth giving it a shot rather than saying it's not going to work. This is literally the MSE we need. – Journeyman Geek Jul 29 at 12:54
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    I offer my answer to the pile of links as reference, it was before the removal of HMP which made me feel fooled as I was really hoping the message came accross. The removal of HMP and Sara's answer made me lost faith at this point. – Tensibai Jul 29 at 12:57
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    This might be nit-picky just because it's my site, but I feel like the section about IPS should at least mention that one of the justifications for taking action on the tweet was that IPS meta had a number of discussions and grumbling about being in HNQ in the first place... yes, the communication around it was bad - and Catija admitted this and apologized for it in her response, but getting it wrong is different from "SE didn't even consider how the community would feel about it". – Em C Jul 29 at 14:56
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    I wish the MSO/MSE split (fork?) were discussed, too--I don't have my head around it enough to know if this post, or any MSE post, or somewhere on MSO is the right place to bring that up, though. I mean, I think the following set of factors create lots of friction-points: that SO provides the eyeballs/exposure important to the business model; that SE exists as a side-benefit; that SO userbase are used to communicating with and hearing from staff in one way (MSO); that the rest of the (SE) userbase may find MSO unapproachable if they're even aware of its historic role;... – nitsua60 Jul 29 at 17:58
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    that communications crossing the SO/SE barrier may be fraught with historical and cultural baggage; that technical points exacerbate many of those divides (the Tavern's across a boundary from SE chats; MSO doesn't even have a chat, apparently; hot MSO posts about company/policy have been considered important by the SO userbase while being functionally invisible to SE userbase; the mod Team lives in SO-space). – nitsua60 Jul 29 at 17:58
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    Great post; spot on, I think. On the subject of removing HMP as a reaction to Meta toxicity toward staff. I asked if the removal meant staff could be expected to start using Meta again and never received a response... – TylerH Jul 31 at 4:08
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    I have to split hairs on this. "People started being more snarky and condescending and toxic to staff, because of the way they'd been treated by staff." If someone is snarky, condescending, or toxic there is no good "because." What we say is a choice. It's not like the weather - "I started being wet because it rained." – Scott Hannen Aug 1 at 17:08
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    "new staff members in particular ended up being completely unaware of site culture and nuances, and had no idea how to use meta. This ended up in scrapes" - but did this really happen? I'm very active on Meta Stack Overflow, but I can't remember any instance in the last year of a non-CM staff member posting there besides Sara when she decided to remove HMP. Some corroboration of this (by way of links in the question to examples of this happening) would be welcome, and go some way to helping people like me understand what the heck this latest conflict is even meant to be about. – Mark Amery Aug 2 at 18:23
  • Related question at ELU: english.stackexchange.com/q/514489/112436 – aparente001 Oct 4 at 3:39
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    You had me up to "... close vote queue". Fixing technical stuff isn't gonna change the bad feeling. – Richard Oct 4 at 14:33
  • "Summer 2018" - when? summer of 2018/2019 or 2017/2018? – Alex Wiese Nov 4 at 0:45
  • @Alex - other hemisphere :) – user58 Nov 4 at 7:06
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+50

I saw this post, and wanted to chime in. As I haven't officially introduced myself, my name is Yaakov Ellis, and I am a developer on the Community Dev team. Before that I was Team Lead for the Internal Dev team at Stack, and have been working here for nearly six years. As you can see from my userId and rep, I have also been active on SO and network from the very beginning.

While I have never been super active on meta, I have been an active lurker for a very long time, and I feel like I am able to have insights into the feelings and sentiments of both the meta community as well as those of SO employees/devs/CMs.

Your main inquiry seems to be that we (SO and the Community team) work together with the SO/SE community, especially when it comes to taking on some of the bigger initiatives that the community has been requesting for a while (like working on the Close Votes queue). And all signs that you have been receiving (decreasing frequency of employees communicating with the MSE/O community, employees being scared to go on Meta, removing hot meta posts and moving main communications to the blog) seem to point to that trend only continuing. This is causing pain for some of our most vocal and active long-term community members.

I want to first say that I really appreciate you writing this out, and for the sentiments that you are trying to convey. I don't want to quibble about minor details in the timeline. You represented the timeline in a very accurate and honest way. There is blame that can be spread all around. But I do feel that it is folly to dwell on what has gone wrong. We are interested in moving forward in the best way possible. We have a new Director of Community, a new PM for the Community, and an invigorated pipeline and mission. As Yvette has written, some things have changed (and for some there is a new paradigm to get used to around here). But speaking with a foot in each camp, I truly believe that the changes are ultimately going to be for the best of both the community at large, new and more experienced users, and the site/network as a whole. And it will take some doing to get there.

Yes, we are changing the focus of the places and ways in which we will be initiating interactions (namely, moving from meta to the blog), but that doesn't mean that we want interactions to cease. I think that having more positive and collaborative interactions with our most active users is good for everyone. So we do want to work together with the community. And while we can't commit to a date to begin work on the close-vote project right now (or can we?), it is on our list of things to do and I do know that we will be kicking off research around the close queue work soon.

I will admit that there is internal anxiety of being more open with the community regarding the different projects and initiatives in the works:

  • Plans can change, and it is more awkward to do that when it is under the magnifying glass of community discussion
  • Functionality being worked on can change direction
  • Some discussions and features may not be things that the meta community will be big fans of. And even if we believe that these items are for the best, there will also be times when (with best intentions), as these decisions have been made after research, data, and users have been consulted, the actual direction is not up for discussion. We can't always share those for privacy purposes, and this causes the back and forth with objectors to be difficult.

And ultimately, we need to be honest and reset some expectations of what will happen with the feedback that folks provide. We value it, and we absolutely promise to listen to all of it (we read every word here and much of what y'all have to write elicits internal discussion), but we can't always take the actions that folks here might prefer. We also can't commit to communicating everything in advance, especially when we know that we're simply not open to feedback about certain things, because that would be wasting people's time.

That said, I am optimistic for the future of interactions between the SO Community Team and the MSO/MSE community. There will still be growing pains as each side (hopefully) tries to overlook scars and sores from the past, and as we try to find the best avenues of interaction (like the friction logs that Meg mentioned). But we are all interested and working with the same goal in mind: keeping SO and the SE Network the number one place on the Internet where people can share knowledge in the most efficient and friendliest way possible.

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    Hi Yaakov and thanks for taking time to write this encouraging answer! – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jul 29 at 17:33
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    I wrote a comment to Jon a short while ago, about not feeling like I can trust most staff because I no longer know and can relate to most staff. We're no longer friendly and personal. Now, most of them feel cold and distant. The posts I'm seeing today from you and Meg are a huge step in the right direction, in my mind. I think that starting strong like this, with friendly talks and all... This is great. I hope that, even with features that we, the established users, will inevitably not want at first, this will start to rebuild the trust that we need to keep the sites alive! – Kendra Jul 29 at 18:10
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    And we're just getting started. :) Thanks for reading @Kendra! – Megan Risdal Jul 29 at 20:13
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    Thanks for this. Well written and this is the things "SO and the SE Network the number one place on the Internet where people can share knowledge in the most efficient and friendliest way possible." The controversy around friendliness aside, this is what we all want. – Nobody Jul 29 at 23:32
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    If I was pushing to production something not to be debated (because security constraint or legal requirements) without warning my users a bit in advance I know how they would react: mostly like MSO users actually. The fact you (company) are convinced something has to be done and is not up to debate is not a reason to push it without a word and doesn't help its reception. I'm not talking about turning your kanban board public, but announcing changes a week before they're live is just respectful communication IMHO. My 2cts. – Tensibai Jul 30 at 9:17
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    @Tensibai I hear. This perspective is something that the CM team takes into account when planning new feature announcements. The gains in advance warning for potentially controversial (at least on Meta) changes needs to be weighed against the potential downsides as well (which includes opening up a discussion on the merits of the feature before it is even usable or visible, and potentially generating avoidable ill-will in the process). Each scenario is different. Thanks for your input. – Yaakov Ellis Jul 30 at 9:40
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    @YaakovEllis Happy to discuss it in more details in chat if you want. I don't think comments are the proper venue for that. In brief I never saw an occurrence of "darklaunch" modifying a largely used feature ending with less debates and opposition than one announced beforehand (not limited to SO). – Tensibai Jul 30 at 11:17
  • Re "Plans can change...": Expectations could be set by disclaimers (in a place where they are actually read). For example (but perhaps less enterprisey and definitely shorter), "These statements involve risks and uncertainties, and actual results may differ. Risks and uncertainties include the effect of global and regional economic conditions on Stack Exchange’s business, including effects on purchasing decisions by businesses. The effect that shifts in the introduction of new products, including new products with higher cost structures has." – Peter Mortensen Jul 31 at 6:03
  • cont' "The continued service and availability of key executives and employees. Stack Exchange assumes no obligation to update any forward-looking statements or information, which speak as of their respective dates." – Peter Mortensen Jul 31 at 6:03
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    @PeterMortensen you use a lot of words to say 6 to 8 weeks ... – rene Jul 31 at 7:08
  • In the third paragraph, what do you mean by "that trend"? I can't see any clear previous reference to a trend. – Peter Taylor Jul 31 at 10:48
  • @PeterTaylor "that trend" is referring to the previous parenthetical remark "decreasing frequency of employees...". Could probably have been phrased better. – Yaakov Ellis Jul 31 at 12:43
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    "it is folly to dwell on what has gone wrong" - without knowing what's gone wrong, or even thinking one knows what's gone wrong, what basis can there be for believing that the changes being made will improve anything? – AakashM Aug 1 at 10:53
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    I echo @AakashM on the importance of "knowing what's gone wrong". I can only speak for myself, but I just plain don't understand what's motivated many controversial changes. Even regarding the removal of HMQ from Stack Overflow, 2 weeks later I have many unanswered questions: what kind of interactions it's supposed to protect staff from, whether it's meant to do so directly (how?) or is a punishment for past misdeeds, and whether the particular choice of weakening our content curation ability reflects a deliberate move away from the idea of Stack Overflow as a library of knowledge. – Mark Amery Aug 2 at 18:53
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    I appreciate the goodwill shown here and the desire to move forward productively. But I feel like the first step of that has to be bridging the massive chasm in understanding of what's driving each group. When you don't have any model of what motivates the other side in a conflict, or what objectives are served by their actions and policy preferences, it's difficult to engage in constructive dialogue or reach any useful compromises - and is more tempting than it should be to parse their actions as arbitrarily malicious. I fear that's at least the position the community is in right now. – Mark Amery Aug 2 at 18:56
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Thank you for laying out such a comprehensive post. I'm so exhausted, but it's such an important topic, I'm replying, but not even sure if this will read well.

This answer is mainly about Stack Overflow, as that's where I've been very active for some time.

Stack Overflow Meta

Yes, this is indeed something that has been discussed at length on Meta Stack Overflow (MSO). Dissected. A lot of banging heads against brick walls and a shortage of trust and good will between our meta users and the Stack Overflow company. It's been stressful all around.

Not only has it been stressful on employees, it's been stressful on the meta community and the Stack Overflow moderators. Many people (mods included) have felt the heat from MSO.

All I keep advising people on MSO is, there's nothing to lose by staying and seeing what changes are implemented. I can't give advice for the other Stack Exchange Network sites. I suspect most of them are still more autonomous and community driven. But definitely there's a ripple affect from Stack Overflow.

1. Letting the Community Know Where They Stand is the first Step

Letting the community know once and for all that we really don't have much if any say about changes to the site, at least lets people know where they stand. Removing the Hot Meta Posts on MSO has stopped potential posts complaining about the Network, where potentially staff or moderators or even users trying to suggest change get a lot of pile has in fact been effective.

2. Supporting the MSO Community, Moderators and Employees

The thing is I still feel sad. It's the end of an era and the grief is palpable among the MSO community, the Stack Overflow moderators and the staff. By opening up some chat rooms and allowing people to talk in chat, it's really helped. It's made for more constructive conversation than the chaos that can result in comment threads under posts. A chat room is not specific to one user, so there's no pile on as such, unless it's pings (which can be taken care of).

I really feel sorry for our MSO community. We've all been so wound up asking for resources in the forms of tools (mainly) and after years of dedication I can only imagine we all feel a bit similar. Somewhat chewed up and spat out. I don't hold the employees responsible for this, it's business, the site grew and now it's changing direction (I think).

As much as I've argued with many MSO regulars over the years, I've gotten to know them and to understand where they're coming from and I just feel sad. I'm the MSO community too. We're like a huge family. We get into debates and everyone used to flock to the Holiday dinners of Hot meta posts. We would rumble in and drive each other crazy at times and it feels somehow disconnected. Like groups over 5 not being allowed to congregate after dark.

3. Accepting that the Site has changed

Instead of rallying against things we cannot change, it allows people to put energy into the things they can. They can make decisions about going or staying and how they participate.

4. Fear of the Unknown

I don't know what the site holds. I hold out hope, as it's the flagship of the Network and is what attracts visits to the network. So it is in the Company's best interest to preserve the usefulness of the site. I did advise MSO users, if the mods start leaving, they know they're probably untenable issues for us as a community and what we expect from it. I'm making this opinion based on years of MSO participation. We're all holding our breath. I don't know if I'll be here in 12 months. I might still be in love with Stack Overflow. I don't know.

The Bite of Twitter

I must say it rocked me to my core when tweets seemed to be the impetus of massive change. Much of which I'd been rallying for many years on meta (before the Meta Stack Exchange / MSO) split. Enduring the pile on and unpopularity of criticising the community from within the community, literally for years and then for people to make a tweet and the Company jumps. That really hurts. It's not something I've healed from and I'm sure there's many others who feel that way.

  • 3
    I'm sorry I haven't addressed everything in your post, probably just babbled on. Sometimes we just need to blurt it out and publicly take a stand. – Nobody Jul 29 at 12:26
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    "people...make a tweet and the Company jumps" (+1) – SecretAgentMan Aug 6 at 13:36
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A couple of points - which I'll likely end up building on, though, not only on Mith's post. It's not because I disagree with any of it, but the opposite.

Firstly - and folks might disagree on some of this - well, the community's more than one site. The MSO/MSE split makes it easier to give the broader network a voice.

Stack Overflow (the site) is bigger, but to be honest, it's kinda in the weird place where it's both been in the spotlight and neglected. That said, I feel Meta Stack Exchange is a much more manageable and inclusive site to bring up something that concerns the network as a whole and the community with it.

Stack Overflow (the company) has a problem with messaging. Historically, we had announcements on the SE blog (quite honestly - finding its own clear niche within what's turned from a community-site blog to a broader corporate blog would be nice). While it is true that some parts of Meta Stack Overflow are scary and some folks a little challenging to deal with - well, it's what SE did for ages anyway, and probably would have encouraged some folks less to have taken an angle that played up how they did things in the good old days.

No one likes to be told they're terrible people, but terrible people follow up by being terrible people, and good folks just get sad.

Often, when talking with other mods and users on many spaces on the network, we often hear that a place is toxic or negative. Some places never got fixed. Other places are a work in progress - I've heard that about the Tavern in the past, and there's still work ongoing but I do hope it's better than it was before.

I think a critical thing about the question and the discussion that is following is, well, it's a great chance to start to mend things.

Stack Overflow Employees have panic attacks and nightmares when they know they will need to post something to Meta. They are real human beings that are affected by the way people speak to them. [...] I can’t sleep at night knowing that we are forcing people to participate here as part of their jobs.

That's not right. But it's also got a few effects that make things worse. There are a lot of different voices out there. Some are loud, some aren't. Some kinda have their own motives.

And well, some of the voices are of folks who want the community to be something very different. I've no doubt some of those folks feel they are doing the right thing, but a division between the folks who run the network and, well, the users isn't healthy and destroys one of the thing that makes SE unique as a whole.

I don't have the same sort of influence I do on Super User or even Meta.SE, but it's worth considering the tone we and others use in communicating and if we're forging something better or burning it all down.

I'd go so far as to suggest that Stack Exchange let the mods know if they're going to be posting something that might be controversial. Possibly even announce seemingly minor feature changes and collect feedback before they go live.

Yes, please - it's slightly annoying to come across or get asked about a seemingly minor change, and only realise later. Even if we don't have direct input on changes, it's going to scale better if mods know about it.

Plans can change, and it is more awkward to do that when it is under the magnifying glass of community discussion

They do, but it's useful to know once it's decided.

Employees and users need to interact more. They need to learn on both sides that the others are human as well, and doing the best they can with what they have. More interaction is the key, not less. It shouldn't be a rare sight to see a staff member post on meta.

Or even turn up in places. With a few exceptions, one of the less welcome effects of the network growing (and trying out new ideas) is we've had a lot less interactions with the CMs and other folks. It's going to be tough, but that's one of the things that worked great in the early development of the network.

As for us the community.

I'm not saying we should forget the things that went wrong so far, and the wrong turns. But, we've been angry and miffed and kinda emotional for a long while. At times, that negativity can be infectious and well, folks are afraid to speak because they'll hear more doom and gloom. To steal a line from Nightwish, "it's hard to light a candle, easy to curse the dark instead". I don't even mean staff - even with folks inside the community at large.

It might be worth listening to the more moderate voices too - the folks working to fix things cause the community matters to them. I'm all for telling SE when they're tap-dancing on the edge of a cliff of sheer doom, but it's also good to encourage the folks telling them to get off the edge and reach out to them.

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