How do you call someone who turns to force to impose their view?

That is how I call you, and I think it is time for a change.

Consider how SE works:

  • You are the one that built a platform -- thank you for that.

  • We are the ones that produce the content.

  • We try to do so freely, democratically, out of our needs, passion, and interest.

  • You are the one that profits economically on the content that we create -- thank us for that, maybe?

The issue with this balance is that you structured the platform to give yourself absolute ruling power, and while pretending to allow us some freedom and democracy, you haven't hesitated in showing it to us on multiple occasions. I do not think it is a healthy relationship when you can push your agenda on the rest of us, and we can barely write a complaint to show our disappointment.

Regardless of the specific topic of the particular abuse, the issue is that you took no significant action towards a change. There could have been many things you could have done to improve our relations:

  1. Separate your activity from ours. You do that one thing that you know how to do, and that is to build and maintain the platform. We freely and democratically organise ourselves, elect our representatives, and contribute to our shared knowledge.

  2. Give us the full power to undo the effects of your abuses and to veto any further action that you may wish to take on members of our community, and on its content.

  3. Open any decisions that may affect our participation in the platform to referendum votes, as it is done in all respected democracies around the world.

  4. Accept that if you wish to partake in the community, you may do so as any other user with limited privileges unless elected to a position of power by the community itself.

You have done nothing of it, and that is where the line is drawn. All the rest, apologies, promises, chit-chats, mea culpas, and excuses... they are just cheap words in the air.

More action, less talking.

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    With thanks to all the users that contributed to my question on writing.SE --- writing.stackexchange.com/questions/48330/…
    – NofP
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 10:57
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    I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment, but SE isn't wikipedia. SE is a for profit private corporation with shareholders. It's exceedingly unlikely that any of this will happen.
    – Magisch
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 11:11
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    This does not seem to be a feature-request.
    – Raedwald
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 11:24
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    @Magisch the problem is, currently it looks like "shareholders", whoever they are, try to squeeze too much profit from volunteers (who make the profitable content). This is a dangerous trend that involves risk of them eventually losing any profit at all and they better introduce some limitations on it - for their own good
    – gnat
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 11:24
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    @gnat I don't disagree, but in a private corporation, the only people with actual control are the shareholders. In this case, mostly venture capital funds.
    – Magisch
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 11:27
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    It's "What" do you call someone...? a common mistake by non-native speakers easily fixed though. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 11:34
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    they can pretend having full control as much as they want. Until one day they notice that volunteers are leaving and that their profits vanish. Someone needs to help them understand that and convince them take measures against this happening
    – gnat
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 11:34
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    "How do you call someone who turns to force to impose their view?" - The boss. Your repeated references to "democracy" later on suggest that you wanted the first answer to be "a dictator", but companies are not countries. Companies can be stupid, and SE is certainly is Electronic Arts-level "sense of achievement" stupid. But that's OK, stupid companies can be replaced. It happened to ExpertsExchange; time will tell if StackExchange decides to follow that path. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 11:59
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    @MSalters, yes, that's true when you have an actual contract with the boss, but this is not the case. Most of us contribute as a freelancer not expecting any in change except the satisfaction of being usefull to other people. So, maybe SE is a profitable company, and as a company needs to rule over it's employees. In my case, indeed I respect opinions, but I'm not will be ruled by someone who's not my boss. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 13:00
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    @MauricioContreras: Freelancers don't get to vote on the company policy either. And in Europe, I'd have to drop the "either". Employees do get to vote on company policy there (via Employee Councils), but freelancers don't. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 13:11
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    "You are the one that profits economically on the content that we create". This is how internet works. You want free content someone's got to make money somewhere.
    – IEatBagels
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 14:19
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    @IEatBagels Sure, nobody said otherwise. Yet "thank us for that, maybe?" looks like a sensible suggestion. Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 17:06
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    Yup. Happy community happy to create quality content, SE earns money - everybody happy. Community angry at SE - what's that good for? Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 17:43
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    I wonder how long before an alternative platform will appear...
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 17:31
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    Hit them where it hurts - their wallet. Companies don't listen to people - they listen to money and power. Between the impending licensing lawsuit, and this user-distancing fiasco, they'll be under siege soon anyway, and then they'll HAVE to listen.
    – user303172
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 17:19

5 Answers 5


I agree with the sentiment, but practically speaking, the only way that could likely work is if Stack Exchange, Inc. (SE) can spin off the Stack Exchange Network (i.e., Stack Overflow, Super User, etc.) into a non-profit which can operate independently of SE. That would allow SE to focus on their business lines while the non-profit could concentrate on the public knowledge creation separately.

However, given that advertising using Network derived data is one of their products, this is likely going to be a non-starter. Remember, if the product is free, you are the product.

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    Yeah, I am the product? So how come I pay for going online and donating my time for nothing more than meaningless rep-points? Am I being duped? Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 23:17
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    @LangLangC I think you already know the answer to your question in your comment. Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 5:40

I agree in principle with most of what you express here, but there should be a consistent set of rules enforced across the site - this is one of the largest conglomerates of communities across the world, and it would be very complicated to devolve moderation powers to its users completely.

Have you considered that sufficiently influential groups of people could also abuse their authority and negatively affect their community? This happened and still happens on Reddit; hence the administrators employed by the company have power over local moderators.

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    Having said that, I very strongly disagree with the updated CoC, that I find intolerant and authoritarian. Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 0:07

I personally think a benevolent dictatorship is the superior form of government, except for the difficulty in finding a competent benevolent dictator, and the extreme difficulty in getting rid of one that isn't competent and benevolent.

Benevolent dictatorship worked out pretty well for the Stack Exchange community in the past. Now the leadership has changed and it doesn't work anymore.

In other words: The decline in conditions can be reversed by changing how the sites are governed, or by getting a better dictator.

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    funny, but you're actually right. There were times when I disagreed with some stuff Atwood or Spolsky said or implemented here (e.g. forcing me to manually block the logo of the sites for some time because I didn't want to raise unwarranted suspicion around - mind me, some things are best left in the closet at some times), (cont)
    – user255942
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 21:08
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    but I could still agree with them in principle (and I still do - I respect them both as developers, entrepreneurs and just, well, chuckle nice guys :) - I don't have the same sense of attachment to the new staff, even less if some higher-up people who I really liked in the past (e.g. Shog) started changing their behaviour (IMO not for the better) after the recent events. OTOH, other people I liked (even if, similarly, I sometimes disagreed with them, like Harvey) got "removed" in different ways. The thing some people already said - that the chain of trust was broken - is true here.
    – user255942
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 21:12
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    a benevolent dictatorship is one where the people actually trust the dictator, and believe that they are working for some kind of greater good. I can easily bear with a glass of rudeness if it's a price for a barrel full of gold. The SE brass prefers to have a barrel full of waste water, that will have a big red heart painted with the blood of the insert the current social enemy under current community guidelines on it. I guess it works on some people, otherwise they wouldn't do it, right? :)
    – user255942
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 21:17

I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment, but SE isn't wikipedia. SE is a for profit private corporation with shareholders. It's exceedingly unlikely that any of this will happen - mag Oct 10 at 11:11

Actually, SE is much like Wikipedia. Just see how Wikipedia describes themselves:

Wikipedia is a multilingual online encyclopedia created and maintained as an open collaboration project by a community of volunteer editors using a wiki-based editing system. It is the largest and most popular general reference work on the World Wide Web.

Similarities, Stack Exchange is also:

  • online
  • created and maintained as an open collaboration project
  • a community of volunteer editors
  • a web-based editing system
  • a large and popular reference work on WWW

The difference is

  • SE is in a question and answer format instead of encyclopedia. But both are informative content.
  • SE runs on a website that is commercially owned.

That latter point is a difference with a big impact (especially recently). But in principle it does not make an important difference between SE/Overflow and Wikipedia.

So, yes, an independent SE would be nice.

Given the facts that SE is an open collaboration project run by a community of volunteer editors, it would be very good that the owner of the website is a non-commercial (and foremost, independent) organization.

From least to most disruptive:

  1. Maybe SE can split up into commercial and non-profit parts?

    I am not sure how that could work legally, but to me this seems technologically the easiest solution.

    In this case the website could be run like MathOverflow, which is independent (and non-profit) from Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange, and just runs on the same platform.

    Note that this is not unprecedented. The split up can be done in various gradations and one can think of a Linux style split into profit and non-profit as with Fedora or Ubuntu. This solution does not mean that SE/SO gives up their site, it would mean that they give the community (more) self-control, and instead focus on their 'products' (Stack Overflow for Teams).

  2. Create an exact clone?

    The problem is that SE/Overflow is not easy to clone from the current website. You could make an exact copy of the content (and possibly one may also create a very close clone of the website to run it), but it will be difficult to get the entire community along (and I wonder about how to deal with licensing, how is one gonna tribute user 'user149824' or 'StrangeUsername' without knowing their original emails and when possibly the Stack Exchange may remove their profiles?). Copying the content may be easy (let the computer do that), but getting all user profiles coupled may be a difficult and time consuming task.

  3. Start something new?

    One may either start new projects like PhysicsOverflow (which is actually born out of a SE beta site) or biostars.org.

  4. Start somewhere else with the content but change the format

    In some posts on meta.stats I have suggested ideas to move the community to a wiki-style platform (to move to the content from SO/SE to a next level of content management) or to create some standard or protocol (to allow the content to be decentralized and governed by the community, like some form of Usenet or set of blogrings).

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    "So, yes, an independent SE would be nice." And that will never happen with SE software.
    – Cerbrus
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 13:56
  • @Cerbrus I am not suggesting that specifically. In addition it is already existing now (MathOverflow is the example) Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 13:57
  • That's an existing website that's updated to SO's software, which is a different story. SE will never let go of the SO name / site.
    – Cerbrus
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 14:00
  • @Cerbrus I agree it would not make much sense (which is, I believe, mostly because, for the moment, SO is currently still running like normal. Not many seem to care about what happens at meta). There is not much incentive (yet) for SO/SE to give up their flagship to the community. ---- However, I would not say never. (anyway, I believe some forking might be more realistic as what could actually happen, but this split of SE itself would, in my view, be more advantageous for all parties) Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 14:04
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    @Cerbrus this split up into commercial and non-profit parts may also happen in all sorts of different graduations (e.g. Linux style separation between profit and non-profit parts). The trademarks do not have to be given up. One could think about more self-governance for the community (e.g. control over the Code of Conduct). Then the company can focus on the products (like Teams) by which it really wants to make money/profit. (if they do not go for this split up and let dissatisfaction continue then those products might become less valuable, so there's a potential incentive for the future) Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 14:19

That is how I call you, and I think it is time for a change

Adding an aspect I am missing here so far: the alternative to "they change" is: "we change".

As in: we witnessed over many months how that part of the relationship between the community and Stack Exchange Inc. deteriorated. The community kept pushing, and posting zillions of questions and answers here.

Quoting Einstein (supposedly):

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results

The community actually tries that right now, to find new ways to organize, to get heard (just see the various ideas that came up here for example)

But then, I am not too optimistic that we can change that part of Stack Exchange Inc.'s behavior.

Thus: when the other side doesn't change, the only other way that will lead to change is: you changing.

In our case, the (both sad) options are:

  • to leave the network and its communities behind completely
  • to give up on that idea of a consensus/democracy based community like we had some years ago.
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    When "they change" is not an option, and "we change" is the alternative, then this could either mean that we cause them to make a change, or ... that we log out here, and provide our contributions to a different site. (I'd happily do the latter, if there was the chance. Ideally some foundation-based model, similar to wikimedia. That doesn't come out of nowhere, but there might be enough frustration with SE to jump-start something like this...)
    – Marco13
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 16:50
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    @Marco13 That is what the first bulleted point means: we leave this network behind. The problem is of course: to get to a meaningful definition of "we" for that path. I think if you do a poll amongst say, the top 500 contributors on stackoverflow, ... I would be surprised if more than 5% of those would be willing to move to a different platform.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 17:07
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    That might largely depend on whether they've been following the discussions here on meta, and what "new platform" that would be. Regardless of that: If Price's Law also applies to contributions on stack overflow (and my gut feeling is that it does, and maybe I'll find some time to check this in more detail), then even 0.015% of all contributors may be enough for a Phoenix site
    – Marco13
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 17:42
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    @PeterMortensen Such subtleties are so pre-Trump. It's 2019. No time for such details! ;-)
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 7:04

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