55

Right now there's quite some stuff happening around the Stack Exchange network, and even spreading to outside the network itself with "The Register" covering it and other (more forum focused) sites talking about it. Two of the results on the first page when searching for "Stack Exchange" on Google are about the current situation. This has caused quite some bad press for/about the network, and I can only imagine people steering clear of it when they read about it.

So my question is, has the network (or a sub site of) seen something like this happen on/to it before? (a bunch of mods leaving, bad press outside of just the network e.g) If so, how was it handled back then? Did it include the same long silences (and in my opinion) weak/boilerplate responses?

My background to asking this (and this is all how I experience it, and can not speak for others) is really to determine whether the promise to "do better next time" holds any value. If it is a first time something like this happened it is (slightly) more understandable that mistakes were made in handling things (we're all humans, and humans are good at making mistakes)... But if it isn't the first time, and there were previous promises to "do things better next time" then I can personally attach very little value to such a promise.

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    It's certainly the most visible "outrage" that I can recall. There have always been running battles over certain policies and actions (twittergate/HNQ springs to mind), but this is far and away the biggest misstep made by SE and the response has been unparalled in its swiftness. That being said, a few days in and already some mods are begging for their diamonds back, some 'suspended activity' mods have started doing 'emergency' edits and there don't seem to be any additional mod resignations. It seems to have blown over with the resignation of a few of her friends and not a lot more. – Richard Oct 5 at 17:26
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    I've yet to see mods begging for their diamond back. I don't monitor all sites, though. I also wouldn't expect resignations over one week in, then you'd be very late to the party. What's need to be said has been said, we can only wait to see how it's going to be followed up. – Erik Reinstate MonicA Oct 5 at 17:43
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    I can think of SO documentation on stack overflow that had raised huge frowns – Karan Desai Oct 5 at 17:45
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    The official political stand also raised some eyebrows, but that was a different kind of drama – Erik Reinstate MonicA Oct 5 at 17:54
  • @ErikA that's definitely a can of worms! Although I think that (as you said) it is quite different and out of scope for this, it is certainly interesting – remy_rm Oct 5 at 18:05
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    @ErikA Wow! meta.SO was really the wrong platform that kind of soapboxing (I say that objectively). I feel that would have been shut down pretty quickly if anyone else had made a similar post. – faintsignal Oct 5 at 18:13
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    I didn't beg for my diamond back. It was pretty darned far from "begging". – Snow Oct 6 at 10:06
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    @Snow I think some explanation would be nice, otherwise what you did/what you did stand for at first may seem not good, if you get what I mean. – Vishwa Oct 7 at 4:46
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    @Vishwa I've not exactly been quiet about my views and opinions here. Please refer to Here, Here, Here, and Here – Snow Oct 7 at 5:59
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There has been outrage before. Quite a lot of outrage actually. SE are not great communicators. However I think this is probably the most extreme it’s been.

Advertisements:

HNQ / Hot Meta Posts:

Navigation:

Licences:

App:

Comments:

Welcoming:

MinReprex:

  • 2
    I would select the top ten and leave the rest out. Not all of these cases created an "outrage". – Mari-Lou A Oct 5 at 18:27
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    @mari I don’t think it’s on me to select the “top 10”. I think these all caused outrage though. – Tim Oct 5 at 18:28
  • The first four links are related to ads. One member of staff's heavily downvoted communication does not explain why so many users are upset. – Mari-Lou A Oct 5 at 18:32
  • Therewas also the min-reprex thing very quickly shot to the post with the lowest score...until the HMP removal hit a couple of months later. Probably a lot smaller but still - second lowest score at the moment. – VLAZ Oct 5 at 18:47
  • @VLAZ I considered including that but it didn’t feel like outrage in the same way. Perhaps I’m wrong. – Tim Oct 5 at 18:49
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    @Tim I think it fits. It wasn't too long lived but it did raise a lot of concerns about SE just coming in and making changes without ever consulting with the community or even announcing anything in advance. It was "here is what was done" and it people complained about no communication and the community being ignored. Yet again. So, a relatively small issue but it released some of the pent up tension in the community in the form of complaints against SE. – VLAZ Oct 5 at 18:57
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    @fredsbend I think it was probably the “documentation” project when SE stopped listening to users (notably the horrible reputation system). In other words: when SE started wanting to make money, they started to alienate their users. – Tim Oct 5 at 22:33
  • Although the applicability of the term "outrage" may be debatable: There have been incidents that caused a lot of attention. While the general result was some sort of agreement to the issues at hand, the reactions should have made clear that it is not appropriate and highly, highly, problematic to pull hot political issues into a Q/A network, as of the posts meta.stackoverflow.com/q/297859 and meta.stackoverflow.com/q/342440 (both locked because they are "not a good question" - maybe, one day, they'll see why...) – Marco13 Oct 6 at 12:09
  • @Tim I don't think I can pinpoint an exact time when communication started becoming rarer but the documentation project was close. I think you hit the nail on the head with SE's pursuit of other projects for money, though. It was around the time of the documentation project when the company started growing. In fact, I had to double check the timeline I remember and true enough - documentation launched in 2016 and, as Wikipedia says: – VLAZ Oct 6 at 12:54
  • "In 2016 Stack Exchange added a variety of new sites which pushed the boundaries of the typical question-and-answer site. For example, Puzzling offers a platform for users who already know the answer questions to challenge their peers to solve the problems unlike traditional Q–A sites where the poster does not know the answer". Thus this was a period of growth and branching off for SE. I imagine their resources were stretched thin, so they couldn't communicate as much but...then that became the status quo. And now it feels like they are doubling down on it. – VLAZ Oct 6 at 12:54
  • Getting to the new responsive site design wasn't without hassle either. Some entire sites such as TeX were threatening to leave (!) Of course it didn't involve StackOverflow as much, so it wasn't as wide spread as the current issue. – Maarten Bodewes Oct 6 at 16:21
  • @MaartenBodewes also stack overflow gets a custom design from the rest of the network – Tim Oct 6 at 16:22
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    Notably, almost all of these are 2018-2019. – Lundin Oct 21 at 15:12
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+200

No.

Until recently, disputes between the corporation and the communities have been able to be resolved with open, honest (if often difficult) communication.

From my perspective, the real problems started with a single tweet from someone who wasn't even a participant on the Stack Exchange network, who posted a tweet about the apparent lack of diversity on SE, and then complained about mansplaining from anyone who had the audacity to challenge her views.

Since then, Stack Exchange has been obsessed with their public image. It appears that anyone with an axe to grind can throw around unsubstantiated accusations on Twitter and get major changes enacted, some of which were already asked for on Meta but neglected for years.

The problems with the community and corporate's relationship are well-documented elsewhere, so I won't rehash them in detail. What I would like to articulate here is this:

  1. There is absolutely nothing wrong with insisting on civility and treating people with respect. If that means moderators must delete any comment that doesn't directly address the post, then so be it. I hate to admit it, but taking that approach on Stack Overflow has made the site a better place. However...

  2. There's a big difference between fostering an environment of mutual inclusion and respect, and advocating for a specific group of people who identify with some cause. I feel very strongly that SE should not be in the advocacy business, for anyone. Stack Overflow was created for programmers to get assistance with their programming problems, not to take up the latest social cause.

  3. The latest corporate leadership has demonstrated, on many occasions, that they have no interest in understanding the communities under their purview or listening to their concerns. It seems pretty clear to me that they now view these communities as a corporate asset, in much the same way that an accountant sees a number on a balance sheet.

In case I haven't made it clear yet, I don't think that the corporation cares one bit about any of the people they are presumably protecting with their new policies.

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    This isn't the first time a company has exhibited such behavior before: before the incident you mentioned, YouTube also went through something similar. Basically, some advertisers complained that their ads were showing next to "controversial" videos, so YouTube started heavily enforcing a policy that only "ad-friendly" videos could be monetized and began heavily demonetizing videos (preventing their authors from earning money on them) that were even slightly controversial. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 5 at 19:52
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    @fredsbend citation needed that not obliging hasn’t hurt a company. – Tim Oct 5 at 22:38
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    @fredsbend I’m asking for an example of one company with a decent product which didn’t capitulate and hasn’t struggled since? That’s not asking to prove a negative – Tim Oct 5 at 22:52
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    I think you have diagnosed the problem well, and that stackexchange "leadership" now only care about being liked by people in their socal circle. – Ian Ringrose Oct 14 at 9:54
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a bunch of mods leaving

No; while in the past there have been a couple of moderators leaving because they didn't agree with how things were handled, those were only one or two at the time (as far as I know). Nothing comes even close to the current situation.

bad press outside of just the network

That depends on whether you include Twitter in your definition of press, I guess. About a year ago, there was some outrage about Hot Network Questions whose titles were rather unfortunate in a professional setting. That was noted by a Twitter user who posted a complaint (that tweet has been deleted in the meantime), which led to a rather rushed decision to remove a complete site from the Hot Network Questions.

As far as I know, the Welcome Wagon was also a reaction to some external articles about negative experiences by new users.

I joined Stack Exchange 4.5 years ago, so I don't have much experience to share about earlier times, but if the number of Meta Stack Exchange posts about a situation is a good indication, nothing comes close to the current situation either.

  • Thanks for the input, I did not know about those (having only been an "active" member for not too long). Although it seems like (from skimming through it) a reaction to the HNQ bit took quite a long time, that the response that did come was met positively, and handled in a serious manner (which is definitely a good thing) – remy_rm Oct 5 at 17:36
  • Wasn't there some time when Jeff turned on some high-rep users? Apparently that was drama (I wasn't there then). – marcellothearcane Oct 5 at 19:47
  • @marcellothearcane do you maybe think of March 2012 when they started immediately showing rep lost from deleted older posts? If memory serves there were 30-40 complaints posted to meta every day back then (most of not all of them are deleted now). That was quite a drama. It ended only after thy introduced a compromise preserving rep of deleted older posts with score >= +3 – gnat Oct 21 at 14:43
12

With a lot of mods leaving...I don't remember.

But there was huge issue with previous license changes MIT vs CC-BY-SA.

6

The reaction of the community is clearly unprecedented. Moderators resigning alone makes this unique, but just looking at the numbers can tell this is not something that has ever happened.

Here's a list of questions on MSE with most downvotes.

Two recent posts about CoC update (Official FAQ on gender pronouns and Code of Conduct changes and An Update to our Community and an Apology) lead with 2000 downvotes each. The closest contenders unrelated to the recent CoC changes are ad and license changes (We're testing advertisements across the network from 2019 and A New Code License: The MIT, this time with Attribution Required from 2016) with merely 500 downvotes. Posts outside of of top-10 are barely reaching 200 downvotes.

Answers tend to not receive as many downvotes as questions because they're pushed to the bottom of the page and are grayed out. Still, if we look at the list of answers on MSE with most downvotes, we see the same issues on top: CoC, license, ads etc. However, this time two Jeff Atwood's feature request declines from a decade ago are on top of the chart with a small lead (Can we have the ability to retract a close vote before it closes? and Show all of my question/answers to me even if they are deleted), on both of which administration changed their opinion later.

What's more interesting is that even the list of answers on MSE with most upvotes is full of answers to the most downvoted posts mentioned earlier. The list of most upvoted answers is dominated by posts of two types: posts which are part of the help system and posts discussing CoC.

Overall, judging by numbers, the community has never been so consolidated on a topic.


On the question of whether we can expect Stack Overflow's owners to be prepared for this, we need to look at the list of the most downvoted questions again. Before CoC discussion got to the top, license and ad changes were leading the charts. One happened nearly 4 years ago and another about 4 months ago.

The company clearly has a lot of experience dealing with the community. However, its priorities seem to be changing over time, the voice of the community is ignored more often, so resentment of the community naturally increases over time as a result. While the scale of the disagreement is unparalleled, both the company and the community were moving in that direction for quite some time, so the outcome can't be a complete surprise.

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