I thought I was forever done writing lunatic feature requests on Meta, but...
As recent events have shown, there is a rift and a serious loss of trust between a significant part of the community and Stack Overflow's leadership.
Apart from the obvious triggers of this crisis, most prominently the handling of Monica Cellio's termination as a moderator, the massive explosion of discontent we witnessed over the past week is more the result of different kinds of long-simmering resentments against various general developments within the network:
SO has an obligation to its investors to grow; this is leading to previously unthinkable business decisions causing a great deal of frustration (eg. the rebuild of the home page, the loosening of ad guidelines to include animated ads)
The "old guard" of some of the most invested, highly productive, often very quality-focused users, and especially Meta where many of them tend to converge aren't integral parts of the company's vision any more, meaning the one outlet that SO's usership had to air its views and ideas in unison (rather than in surveys and such) and vote for them as a community might have no future at all, and is already getting heard even less (and it was basically not heard at all before, a cause of much frustration in itself).
In the same vein, this crowd, which initially created Stack Overflow, brought together by a sense community through focusing on quality and authenticity and eschewing corporate culture is finding itself... on an increasingly corporate Stack Overflow. Which was unavoidable and is not necessarily bad... but it's not for most in this deeply invested crowd.
Also, and perhaps much more importantly, the ever-present tension about what the Telos of Stack Overflow should be:
an impersonal repository of knowledge of the highest possible quality, built for future generations to reference, or
a place for individuals to come get help from other individuals?
...seems to have been resolved in favour of the latter. Almost everything we can see in terms of SO. Inc's vision for the site is about becoming a welcoming place to all levels of ability, mentoring, and collaboration. While none of these things is inherently bad, or worth less, or not worth building, and in fact perhaps the only way to make a $40M+ VC investment a thriving profitable business, they are to a degree incompatible with the idea of building a high-quality repository of knowledge.
(Many people have expressed all these issues and sentiments much better than I could during the past week and before. This is just an attempt at summarizing them.)
In summary - tensions that used to bring vibrant discussion and change seem to have become so strong that they are now threatening to break the site apart.
So what if Stack Overflow was split in two after all
One site tightly under SO, Inc.'s control, open to users of all or most levels of experience and with an increasing focus on helping, mentoring, nurturing, welcoming users of all levels of experience, etc. whatever SE's long-term vision is (from here on out, "Open").
A community-curated Stack Overflow for Advanced Questions (from here on out, "Advanced") with the express mission of being a repository of knowledge of the highest quality available to everyone rather than a help forum (although that's always part of it - I know from experience!), with certain expectations in regards to asker experience and question advancedness
... but with Advanced Stack Overflow not being just another Stack Exchange site, but retaining more independence from the rest both feature-wise and in terms of culture and self-governance, perhaps even to the point of being somewhat legally separate (yet with an indelible connection to SO, Inc.)
This could solve a lot of tensions with the community while giving SO, Inc. maximum freedom to take their product where they want to take it:
Feature-wise, Open Stack Overflow would be free to experiment, say, with putting way less emphasis on the reputation system (a desire that has been expressed in several places in the context of making the place more welcoming/appealing to underrepresented groups, think of that what you will) while reputation - surely not the only way to run a Q&A site but undeniably a very successful one - would stay in place on Advanced Stack Overflow as long as its leaders and community want it.
Or, Open SO could limit community discussion to a much more restricted level than the anarchy that is Meta, while Advanced SO would keep its Meta and could host discussions until everyone's ears bleed.
Advanced SO would be guaranteed the respectful, minimal level of advertising that worked for it during the past ten years, while Open SO (likely to have a lot more pageviews) would be free to experiment with any form of ads and monetization it desires without a loud community hating every bit of it.
Advanced SO would be free to turn away users whose technical knowledge and experience is below a certain level - much in the style of a University (but politely, you assholes!) - while Open SO would be as open to users of all levels of programming experience as it wants.
Open SO could experiment with, say, putting increasing focus on Facebook-style paid moderators to keep the site clean - while Advanced SO would continue to elect its community moderators as in the olden days.
Extreme measures like the termination of moderators could be largely in the hands of other moderators on Advanced SO (to a degree; it is unlikely SO, Inc. would give up control entirely over this. I could see something like mods getting time to sort things out before SO. Inc moves forward with a termination.) while on Open SO, the powers that be would be free to terminate moderators under whichever rules they deem correct
While Open SO would be free to facilitate license changes as it sees fit, the license on Advanced SO would stay unchanged until the community or its leaders decide otherwise
Think of Advanced SO as a less corporate cousin to Open SO - say Game of Throne's Wildlings to SO, Inc.'s Seven Kingdoms - with a somewhat different culture, a bit more dangerous, in the long term perhaps a bit less shiny than the premium experience that SO is right now... but genuinely useful.
Now, the architectural and legal and business relationship between an Open Stack Overflow and an Advanced Stack Overflow is of course the crux of this whole thing. It's basically impossible to make any serious suggestions in this regard without insight in what the investor situation looks like, what SO's long term goals are, what the architecture looks like, what SO, Inc. is willing to even consider, what is even remotely feasible financially, etc.
But, some possibilities of models come to mind:
Advanced SO becomes a spin-off of Stack Overflow (with its own domain name, TBD given that SO, Inc. would never part with stackoverflow.com). While it would remain property of SO, Inc., its community would have certain assurances of self-governance and feature stability as described above.
Advanced SO becomes an independent foundation, a bit like Wikipedia I suppose, led by a very small number of stewards (possibly coming over from SO, Inc., or ex-employees?) deciding upon the site's direction, employing a very small number of staff, owner of its domain name and the content generated there but renting all architecture and hosting from SO, Inc., effectively funneling most of the income from Advanced SO back to SO, Inc., as is just and fair and necessary. This is basically as if the Stack Overflow of ca. 2010 existed as a business unit inside a much larger corporation
Advanced SO becomes an independent foundation like in the model above - BUT receives the sites' source code from SO, Inc. to host itself and undertake future development of the platform; funding itself through ad revenue and taking care of hosting, etc. This seems like the most extreme and unrealistic model: it's hard to see why SO, Inc. would ever agree to it, and how a newly independent foundation could sustain itself and pay for the several six-figure-earners that would necessary to keep the lights on - because let's be realistic, something like this would never work with volunteer effort alone. This model would be almost as hard to implement as part of the community breaking away from SO entirely and starting its own site, a humongous effort.
Obviously, in all three scenarios, Advanced SO would continue to be part of the SO family, bound by strict non-compete and stick-to-our-basic-rules clauses laid out by SO, Inc., and other obligations (likely including the CoC.)
The most difficult part probably would be the day-to-day business relationship, especially development of the Advanced SO branch of the underlying platform.
Everyday friction could be huge. Say, for example, the Advanced SO leaders want to implement a new way to deal with duplicates.
Under model 1, the decision whether and how this is implemented would be entirely up to SO, Inc. and likely result in the same kind of stasis as we have now, or even worse because Advanced SO would likely never be the company's main profit generator so low dev priority.
in model 2, the foundation might have to purchase the service of implementing the change from SO, Inc.; how realistic this is is anyone's guess.
under model 3, the foundation would be completely independent to implement whatever feature changes it likes... but it might be too broke to do it.
Another conflict scenario is if SO, Inc., decides that maintaining the Advanced SO branch isn't financially viable without merging feature X into it because that's what all the other sites have been upgraded to. Loads of ways that this could result in a mess.
Whichever the model, Advanced SO would probably have to live with a certain degree of scarcity in terms of feature development and perhaps even maintenance and stability. (We're used to the former but are VERY spoiled on the two latter points, thanks to an excellent and extremely well-paid team.)
Also, all these models would create fault lines and possible future power struggles that may, at the end, create new and even bigger and more destructive conflicts - say if a new CEO at some point decides Advanced SO is a liability and needs to be brought back into the fold. There could also still be conflicts over CoC changes in which SO, Inc. would have the final say. Also, under models 1 and 2, if SO Inc. were ever to fail financially and be taken apart and sold at a discount price to the startup equivalent of a scrapyard, all bets would be off anyway and Advanced SO would become whatever the scrapyard's owner tells it to become.
Also, a split like this would not magically solve the problems the site has, neither those on the Open SO end nor on the Advanced one.
Comments on questions are often snarky and drive people away, and this is not just because "all new questions are garbage". Advanced SO would have to have very steadfast, community-minded stewards to not devolve into a place dominated by the most aggressively quality-oriented folks, as important as their contributions are to content quality. This proposal is not to build a treehouse for toxic behaviours.
Meanwhile, Open SO would still have to find a way to be welcoming to all while not drowning in extremely basic questions and causing frustration all round.
But all these problems have been simmering for years anyway and the site isn't any closer to finding a satisfactory solution to them - so split up the opposite poles and let them try and solve their own problems without constantly blockading each other.
It would be preferable to the situation we have now, in which SO Corporate has all the power but (I'm assuming) can't make all the moves it would like to because of a vocal community that wants things to go a different direction, while that community feels it has no power at all and is constantly frustrated about a steady drip of changes that are taking the place further away from what they believe used to make it great.
Stack is kind of like a scalpel. It's a really great tool, but it's kind of dangerous. When people asked me for it, I was like, "Eh, I don't want to give you the scalpel, because you're going to hurt yourself, and you're going to hurt your users with this tool because they're going to be angry that you shut down their questions. But that's how it's supposed to work, right?
This approach to Q&A can create awful experiences for new and inexperienced programmers, and the impulse to build something that doesn't create those experiences is noble.
Nevertheless, the scalpel has demonstrated that it can be very successful and create valuable content. It deserves to live long-term somewhere in the SO ecosystem.