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There is this obscure document that says

What is "meta"? How does it work?

Meta Stack Exchange is the part of the site where users discuss the workings and policies of Stack Overflow the company and the software that runs the Stack Exchange Q&A network. It is separated from the main Q&A to reduce noise there while providing a legitimate space for people to ask how and why this site works the way it does. Meta is for...

  • …Stack Exchange users to communicate with each other about the Stack Exchange network (asking questions about how the websites work, or about policies and community decisions)
  • …Stack Exchange users to communicate with Stack Overflow, the company (posting bugs, suggesting improvements, or proposing new features), and
  • …Stack Overflow, the company, to communicate with the community (soliciting feedback on new ideas or features, or discussing policies that affect the whole network)

In there it states that we – the ordinary users – do not only talk among ourselves. But that we and the company should communicate.

Lately, that is no longer the case?

So two out of three bullet points seem no longer reflect reality here.

The company seems to announce and implement changes without feedback wanted (stated otherwise but seemingly ignored in practice):

  • via blog,
  • via the press
  • via some strange twitter back & forth
  • internal secret channels (Teacher's Lounge, and probably more),
  • abrupt policy changes,
    • which are paternalistic and authoritarian changes to published documents outlining the policies (whether or not one agrees to the content)
  • deleting opposing questions, answers and comments (with abuse and troll posts included, for sure, but by far not exclusively; haven't enough rep for giving a numerical on that ratio. What I am not aware of is that posts in praise of the change itself or the arguments and methods to arrive there were deleted?)

As to the stated intent and purpose of meta:

If votes or contents of the vast majority of posts are a measurement of approval or disapproval, then the latest company actions were "not approved" by the community? The community seems to have tried a lot to communicate that.

A quite legitimate question many users here seem to have: When do you roll back this CoC, the FAQ to the CoC, reinstate all mods that lost their diamonds recently instantly (should they still want to)?

'What for' does the company view meta now? What is the purpose of us ordinaries participating here? Pure acclamation and opposing opposers to company policies? Just geenrating some traffic and heat? I honestly don't know.

To get this into concrete problem territory:

Which conditions have to be fulfilled,

  • if a company decision planned (in secret) is rolled out and rejected, for that change to be taken back?
  • for a change to be amended or, well, changed?
  • for an entirely 'new thing' to be suggested for becoming policy?

How is this now decided? Is there any codified process we might rely on?

Can we influence and change anything about policy or is at best our role reduced to mere exegesis of company commandments and acclamation of everything that's handed down to us?


This dichotomises to mark the two ends of a possible spectrum I believe to have identified. As I read and understand "What is meta?", the last weeks were in constant contradiction to stated policy. There was probably a lot of CO2, time and energy wasted on all sides if the company has already decided that bullet points 2 and 3 will get an update along the lines of 'less is more' anyway.

Note: Firing mods and forced relicensing: is Stack Exchange still interested in cooperating with the community? asks very broadly for the possible "motivation" of the company, has a long list of related complaints, but consequently no answer fitting this question.

Let alone an answer from an 'official' source. Neither here nor there is any official answer marked "staff" to be found.

Equally What are the effective communication channels for effecting change to SE? , which is old and outdated and starts with a premise in the question this one wants to ascertain. Is the premise really the case in the first place. The related question mainly veers into what off-site resources can be used to achieve something here. This one asks for on-site expectations and possibilities as hopefully explained from the official source.

This question asks of the purpose, opportunities and role for users and how this site is supposed to work now! If the company would address this on the other posts, fine. But the focus is entirely different.

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    Apparently not. – Zoe - account abandoned Oct 12 '19 at 15:22
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    As least they have not closed down all questions like this questioning their actions (yet?) hence I still have some respect for the company. – Ian Ringrose Oct 12 '19 at 17:54
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    A very similar question was asked a year ago under very similar circumstances. Unlike now, SE staff actually (belatedly) responded, but the response was essentially woolly "Dunno, meta's not great, we'll think about it". So I guess they got bored of thinking about it. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 13 '19 at 14:39
  • @IanRingrose, leaving them open and ignoring them is less trouble – ilkkachu Oct 14 '19 at 10:35
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    @OrangeDog It's obviously not a duplicate. That question was answered by saying Meta might be replaced with something else in 2019. Now we're nearing the end of 2019 and that clearly hasn't happened, but Meta is clearly still not matching how it is billed, it's absolutely legitimate to ask what Meta's intended role now is. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 14 '19 at 12:15
  • @user568458 just because an answer is outdated doesn't mean the question isn't the same – OrangeDog Oct 14 '19 at 12:16
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    @OrangeDog That's right. But the other one is outdated and different – fundamentally. – LаngLаngС Oct 14 '19 at 12:18
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    @OrangeDog, Okay, if we're going on question wording, they're even more different. That question asks "What channels exist other than Meta where users are heard?", while this asks "What is Meta's current intended role?". This is specifically about Meta, that is specifically about channels other than meta. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 14 '19 at 12:21
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Can we influence and change anything about policy or is at best our role reduced to mere exegesis of company commandments and acclamation of everything that's handed down to us?

No.

I don't believe we have the ability to effect change now.

My answer to the post A proposed turnaround plan after Monica's firing and my question on MSO What's up with the breakdown in communication between Stack Overflow and the community? (which ironically has no answers from any employees) gives my realistic opinion on this matter.

What tends to happen - and will happen with this post too (though I'd be happy to be proved wrong) - is that users will post answers and provide some exellent suggestions but of course no official response or acknowledgement will be given.


If recent events aren't a clear indication to the fact that meta is slowly being phased out as means of getting feedback, this quote from Sara Chipps should do it:

I like the idea of the SO Company account, however, it still doesn't really help with the fact that there are Millions of users on Stack Overflow whose needs aren't being met because in the past we've spent so much time on Meta which has .015% of Stack Overflow's active users and is not representative of the community as a whole.Source

(Relevant MSO post: How was the number of .015% of Meta users calculated?)

In the question What are the effective communication channels for effecting change to SE?, Tim Post mentioned:

Meta isn't scaling well for any of the goals that it was originally designed to meet. I don't want to get lost in discussing all of the ways that it's just not working; I'd rather just say that our structure when it comes to development evolved considerably and meta simply didn't.

...

There's also no good way of keeping a roadmap up to date, or even tracking progress toward goals in any kind of public way.

...

I think, in 2019, we're going to have to bite the bullet and replace at least bug tracking and feature requests with something else, or have something else behind the pipeline consuming meta and making sure it gets put somewhere else in ordered form so we can work from it. I don't know what that's going to look like, I just know what we've got isn't working, and breaks even more embarrassingly by the week.

...

And I know a lot of you have got "well why don't you just ... " suggestions at hand, that's great, but they're probably not going to help because you really need to be behind the scenes to know what cogs aren't going to fit.

...

So, for now, use Twitter if Twitter is comfortable for you. Use email if you want to use email. Use meta (many people don't because it's scary) - it's not that we're deliberately ignoring things, it's that the pile is so huge and continues to get so every day we pretend Meta still works.


An interesting blog post I came across from Jeff Atwood stated:

I was happy to find that I am no longer on the first page of Stack Overflow users sorted by reputation. That’s the way it should be. Stack Overflow isn’t about me. Nor is it about Joel. Or anybody else on the Stack Overflow team for that matter.

Stack Overflow is you.

This is the scary part, the great leap of faith that Stack Overflow is predicated on: trusting your fellow programmers. The programmers who choose to participate in Stack Overflow are the “secret sauce” that makes it work. You are the reason I continue to believe in developer community as the greatest source of learning and growth. You are the reason I continue to get so many positive emails and testimonials about Stack Overflow. I can’t take credit for that. But you can.

I learned the collective power of my fellow programmers long ago writing on Coding Horror. The community is far, far smarter than I will ever be. All I can ask — all any of us can ask — is to help each other along the path. — Source

Yes, it was a long time ago and this definitely is no longer the case now but it perfectly illustrates what "our" worth is.

Essentially, as I see it now, we can build the communities for SE but we have very little say in them.

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    SE should realise that these .015% are close to 100% of users that moderate, flag, vote, answer and guide the other users in the main sites. – dfhwze Oct 12 '19 at 16:05
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    @rjzii Relevant post on MSO: How was the number of .015% of Meta users calculated? – Script47 Oct 12 '19 at 16:10
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    @rjzii Added the link. – Script47 Oct 12 '19 at 16:16
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    'Passive users (i.e., those that just read Q&A) are only really good for advertising dollars, not content generation.' - @rjzii and of course that might just be what their focus has shifted to hence their apathy towards meta. If their focus has shifted then we're simply a thorn in their side. – Script47 Oct 12 '19 at 16:18
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    Even building communities has become more difficult for us with the change to Area 51 last year. – pacoverflow Oct 12 '19 at 23:15
  • @pacoverflow for those not in the loop, what change would that be? – Script47 Oct 13 '19 at 15:26
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They’ve checked out.

We’ve heard as much from them in some official comments (excellently summarized by Script47) with regards to people not coming here. It also looks like Stack Exchange is moving in the direction of increasing the user base by becoming more friendly and conversational as opposed to strictly Questions and Answers focused. If the rollout of the CoC changes are any indication, concerns will be noted and ignored, they can find more people to do your job.

I’m not sure what the long to plan for Meta is, since it is a useful venue for bug reports, the FAQ, etc.; but those can all be replaced as well. If I had to hazard a guess, I suspect we are going to see the following:

  1. Something like User Voice will be stood-up for bugs and feature requests.
  2. A new FAQ system will be rolled out for the network as a whole.
  3. An announcement will come up regarding an improved "community blog" or the like.
  4. MSO will be "sunset" on the grounds that the main channels for network wide discussions have moved elsewhere, rendering it largely off-topic and redundant.

I’m sympathetic that they might have been in a tough spot with the CoC rollout. However, a major concern of mine is problems related to advertising that they haven’t said much on. I'm also very cynical about the 0.015% of users comment given it appears that those users are contributing 12.5% of the answers.

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    'It also looks like Stack Exchange is moving in the direction of increasing the user base by becoming more friendly and conversational as opposed to strictly Questions and Answers focused.' - Which will be its biggest downfall, especially among the technical sites. I've said this before and I'll keep saying it but the beauty of SO/SF/CR or the other technical sites is that there is no noise. It's just Q&A. I can find what I need, learn about it, and move on without wading through a ton of crap. Otherwise, they'll be no different to Reddit or Quroa. – Script47 Oct 12 '19 at 16:46
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    No, when we talk about "failing" in this context, it's more about a failing of their original goal of curating quality content. I have no doubt that the content they currently have will keep them floating along very nicely and yes, new users will eventually replace old (though maybe the same dedication will be lacking as a lot of the power-users have been around for a while or since the sites conception). But imagine what a month without people handling flags or closing questions on a busy site like SO would do. – Script47 Oct 12 '19 at 16:54
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    I would "check out" of any contect with customers if my employer was forcing me to do things that the most committed customers hate....... – Ian Ringrose Oct 12 '19 at 17:57
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    Ah, yes. Pareto distribution: a tiny amount of users create a disproportionate amount of content. Assuming the same holds true for how knowledgeable of SE those "few" users are, the claim that Meta feedback isn't useful crumbles. – Fermi paradox Dec 19 '19 at 23:45
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Can we influence and change policy ...?

We don't have a formal stake/vote/decision right in the process and the FAQ that you cite says this very clearly.

We seemed to have some kind of consultation privilege, but that seems to have been reduced to commenting after the fact not before. That part of the FAQ could be changed.

We surely have a commenting (or dialog/monologue) right and we exercise it abundantly. The scores of many a contributions make it abundantly clear, which ideas we have, what we support and what we do not support. It couldn't be clearer.

While this theoretically could exert some influence indirectly through the value that the community generates for the company, lately it seems rather not have much visible influence. Maybe we are not generating enough value to be a relevant factor or maybe they kind of miscalculate the value.

Posting controversially on social media like Twitter has been used to influence the company successfully in the past. Probably we could do that too.

Finally, stopping to contribute and/or supporting a competitor may indirectly again influence the fate of the company and/or influence policy of the company.

In summary: We can do so only indirectly, not directly.

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