I spend most of my SE time on Worldbuilding and rarely post or even spectate over here. But after taking a three-month hiatus changing locale and jobs in the real world, I logged back onto SE only to find the most amazing person I know in the SE world has been de-modded and the service aflame with accusations, commentary, criticism, bigotry, falsehoods, allegations... it's been very emotional for the few hours I've put into reading through this mess. I feel awful for everyone who has had to endure this for days.

All this has reminded me of a lesson I learned in a small company many years ago. Farmers don't need kings. But kings desperately need farmers.

If that doesn't make sense, permit me to explain. Royalty (kings, aka "management") is comparatively useless. It produces nothing. It has as its only benefit the ability to oversee and organize to improve efficiency or to bring about a collaborative benefit such as group pricing for products. But by themselves, kings are incapable of producing enough value to justify their own existence.

Farmers, on the other hand, are mega-producers. They produce the food to feed nations. Farmers are the foundation of society. Without someone growing the food, everyone else can't do what they want to do.

When the two are in sync, kings and farmers can do amazing things. When they're not in sync, the king invariably believes he's more important than the farmers. The farmers, of course, know better.

Stack Overflow, Inc. is the king who desperately needs the farmer.

The community is the farmer who doesn't need the king.

SO.inc has developed an incredibly cool and useful website/platform/service. But without the vast community of contributors, it's worthless. And contributors can go anywhere to contribute. Without the value other people bring to SO.inc, SO.inc has nothing to offer to anybody.

And it appears SO.inc has forgotten that simple, important fact.

It also appears — only appears, because a lot of information is either missing or spread too thin across the Internet to effectively discover in just a few hours — that there is a substantial problem with what pronouns are used to refer to people. Frankly, until today I didn't know whether any user was LGBTQ or anything else. Isn't that true utopia? Not knowing or caring what gender/gender-preference a person is? To respect them solely for their intellectual contribution and not degrade or dismiss that contribution because of who they are? Isn't that the essence of freedom?

Apparently not, at least not at SO.inc, where a great many users use a nom de plume to identify themselves that has no relation to gender, ethnicity, race, or anything else. What pronoun is appropriate for someone identified as "user12345?" And what do we expect from someone speaking English as a second language, perhaps too imperfectly to figure out which pronoun to use when posting an answer to a question from user12345?

In my opinion, after spending hours reading through mile-long posts+answers, the choice to remove the moderator status of Monica Cellio, one of the most respected, patient, and level-headed moderators on Stack Exchange, was heinous. The efforts made by SO.inc to make amends demonstrate intolerable immaturity.1 Am I trivializing the need to treat all people equitably? I don't believe so. But I do believe that SO.inc's politicization of the CoC and the subsequent abuse of power has done so. And considering Monica's nature and the brutal behavior of SO.inc, I have no choice but to perceive this as the quintessential First World Problem.

My point in all this? I'm done with Stack Exchange. It's heartbreaking for me as I've enjoyed it so much. Will my choice have repercussions? Not in the slightest. I'm nobody. I'm not a mod. 99% of my participation is on a small stack in the Stack Exchange galaxy. But I'm done. I won't delete my accounts because my input has had some value to users in the past and may have some value to users in the future — and it certainly has value to SO.inc, even though it's such a small drop compared to the whole.

But I have chosen not to leave without reminding Their Royal Majesties at SO.inc that we, the contributors, don't need them. We contributed long before Stack Overflow was first created and will continue contributing long after SO.inc goes the way of MySpace, AOL, and BBS Bulletin Boards.

We don't need you, Your Majesties. You really need to remember that.

1I have no problem using whatever pronoun someone feels most comfortable with, but I'm not a fool when it comes to the complexity of knowing what that pronoun is and its consistent use. I'm also no fool when it comes to how politicized and unproductive this has become. To make a point: A dear friend of mine, raised in the southern U.S. states to treat people with courtesy and civility by referring to men as "sir" and women as "ma'am," was told by a young man in his 20s those terms were gender hate speech. That SO.inc would even try to legislate pronoun usage in a world where people are choosing which pronoun is most suitable for them "today" is, quite frankly, laughable.

  • 17
    "I won't delete my accounts because my input has had some value to users in the past and may have some value to users in the future" You can delete your account, and your contributions will stay.
    – user245382
    Oct 6, 2019 at 6:39
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    The Kings in this case are of the "if the farmers don't deliver bread we'll have cake instead" variety, I'm afraid.
    – Amarth
    Oct 6, 2019 at 10:35
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    @Martin I can imagine a future where even refraining from writing or saying anything is a crime. ;)
    – user437611
    Oct 6, 2019 at 16:00
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    Your metaphor undermines your message, unfortunately. Even periods where bad kings ruled were generally better than periods with no king at all, even for the farmers. Oct 7, 2019 at 14:18
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    @200_success on the other hand there is no documentation about periods when only kings ruled but no farmers produced food because no one survived.
    – Josef
    Oct 31, 2019 at 8:30

2 Answers 2


The metaphor does not break, in my modest opinion.

I have been a team member, and "management" in small, mid-sized, and global companies. Some IT, some not. While I've not been an officer, CEO, etc., I have been the farmer, with good and bad kings, and the king, with good and bad farmers.

The OP does not discount the contribution to the whole made by the "kings," only that without the farmer, the king has very limited value. The value of the farmer can be enhanced by the king's organisational skills, if they exist.

When the two are in sync, kings and farmers can do amazing things.

The farmer produces value, with or without the king. (My knowledge is useful to some people, with or without SO/SE.) The farmer can produce more value when directed by a good king. A good king, with no farmer, produces almost nothing of value.

A community of users with the SO/SE network available produces more content, made available to more people than without the network. The network, without the community of users produces nothing more than an electric bill for the servers and benefits nobody other than the power company.

Interestingly enough, a good king not only values the farmers, but the dukes, earls, and other minor nobles which help in dealing with the farmers. In the SE-verse, those are the moderators. People who are farmers, and can think and act like a king when needed.

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    The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that during The Anarchy, ""Every chieftain made castles and held them against the king; and they filled the land full of castles. They viciously oppressed the poor men of the land with castle-building work; when the castles were made, then they filled the land with devils and evil men" … Death and famine followed, as the farms were depleted and farmers murdered. Oct 8, 2019 at 19:10
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    @200_success Then, to me, that indicates killing the farmers [banning/terminating/loosing the users/mods] is not a good thing for the king(s) [the SO Inc. holdings].
    – user351780
    Oct 8, 2019 at 20:00

I think your own metaphor isn't very helpful:

Royalty (kings, aka "management") is comparatively useless. It produces nothing. It has as its only benefit the ability to oversee and organize to improve efficiency or to bring about a collaborative benefit such as group pricing for products.

I work for a large global IT player, that actually has too many "high management" positions. But rest assured: you notice when you are dealing with a director or executive manager who knows his/her turf. You immediately notice when such a person leads your organisation. Thus I have the vague feeling that you are talking about things you aren't too familiar with.

The community is the farmer who doesn't need the king.

Here the metaphor breaks for me:

  • Stack Overflow build a very reliable platform that has almost zero outages, and yet serves millions of users per day. When you look at the top 50 websites, you find Stack Overflow in position 40. That means: a lot of traffic and requests per day. Meaning: "we farmers" didn't build the market where we give away our products for free. Thus we can't just walk away and find an equally capable market for us.
  • To be more precise: I am also a frequent contributor on quora.com. That platform has a lot of nice features, but in many ways, it totally lacks compared to Stack Overflow.
  • And coming back on equal markets: my coworkers, they understand what it means that I have 100K+ reputation on Stack Overflow. That is something that has real effects in the real world. Most other platforms ... most people have never heard of those, and even when they heard about it, your reputation there doesn't matter.

Long story short, as said, I don't find your metaphor to be much help. And it definitely doesn't match my current thoughts on how to proceed from here. It might be an option for you to "walk" away from Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange easily, but for a person like me who put in a lot of work, things aren't that easy. - Most importantly: you will never get all contributors to move to a new place. And also not the millions of people that come here each day.

Note: I agree with the OP that there is a serious disconnect between the company and the community. But it is unrealistic to claim that "we" could easily walk away and end up with something that works better, for all the aspects that community and Stack Exchange users might come up with!

  • 17
    "your question is flawed": I don't see any question. It's a goodbye message. Oct 6, 2019 at 8:33
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    Here the metaphor breaks completely. - well, no. Everything can be replaced. The site, the content can be merged into a new site (thanks to the CC license), servers can be scaled to handle the same volume... If something breaks horribly on an existing site, someone new can and most likely will replace them. The community might not fully return to the exact same, identical state, but I suppose SE would just consider that collateral damage... Oct 6, 2019 at 9:08
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    You (answerer) are wrong and the OP is right.
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 6, 2019 at 9:17
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    And that an opinion, not a fact.
    – GhostCat
    Oct 6, 2019 at 10:11
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    "Most importantly: you will never get all contributors to move to a new place. And also not the millions of people that come here each day." - you can't get all, but if you get a significant amount and establish a significant presence, the askers don't care if they come to Stack Overflow or some alternative, as long as it does what they expect. That especially applies to non-regular users. Oct 6, 2019 at 10:19
  • But I don't want to contribute to sime community. But to that with the best technology, services and the most viewers...
    – GhostCat
    Oct 6, 2019 at 10:55
  • @GhostCat yeah, that message didn't make sense. What exactly are you saying? Oct 7, 2019 at 12:32
  • @Zoethetransgirl I am saying that I dont see even a "significant amount" of people willing to move away from the SE network, to some new community and service.
    – GhostCat
    Oct 7, 2019 at 12:35
  • Okay, but here's the thing; before the second SE announcement, there were legitimate discussions on how to create an alternative to SE. You might not see it happening, but if the situation continue(s|d) to escalate, there's a good chance some users will see that as a better alternative. About 10% of mod positions around the network were made vacant as a result of the strike. That along with increased visibility (thanks media) can push people away from SO. However, that doesn't mean questions cease to exist. People will always have questions, so I wouldn't doubt for a second alternatives would Oct 7, 2019 at 12:38
  • be used. There's also failed examples of such attempts (take askquestions.tech), but SE turned around the situation there too. This situation got significantly worse than that, and if it continues, people will move away sooner or later. Non-regular users aren't hard to convince. They just need an active place they don't dislike. Oct 7, 2019 at 12:39
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    Re "several percent of the global IP traffic each day": Do you have a source? It doesn't sound plausible; I would expect streaming video (Netflix, HBO, YouTube, etc.), others (Facebook, search engine crawlers, audio (mostly music) streaming, software updates (e.g. Windows Update)), and the very very long tail to take up at least 99.99%. Oct 7, 2019 at 13:43
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    @PeterMortensen And you are correct. I "mis-remembered". Origin was here: se-radio.net/2019/07/… ... but Joel didn't speak about traffic per se, just SO being in the TOP50 list. Corrected my answer accordingly. Thanks for making me aware of that.
    – GhostCat
    Oct 7, 2019 at 14:02

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