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Does the Stack Exchange team serve at the pleasure of the community?

If so, what can the community do to hold the Stack Exchange team to account?

If not, are there any plans to give the community the ability to hold the Stack Exchange team to account?

Recently

Recent actions of Stack Exchange Inc have come under a lot of scrutiny.

Moderators elected by the community have resigned or suspended activity in protest of recent actions.

5 out of the 10 lowest scoring questions on this site were posted in the past 4 months, all 5 were authored by someone with a flair next to their name.

The users Stack Exchange aims to protect have reported a "lashing out at members of the LGBTQ+ community". The top response to the apology send out by Stack Exchange Inc. calls it "meaningless" for refusing to come clean with respect to one of the aforementioned actions.

$$$ > community?

Meanwhile, the new chief executive officer of Stack Overflow promotes the company to investors by citing revenue projections:

practically ubiquitous — and lucrative, with the company claiming an annualized revenue run rate of $80 million, a measure of how much revenue it projects to generate in the next 12 months if current conditions hold.

In fact, the advertisement mentions variations on the word business 9 times, featuring the word community only 6 times. I get it, you need to satisfy investors but as noted in the Business Insider article, you can't do it without the community and it'd be a shame to see these communities (because Stack Exchange is more than just Stack Overflow) break apart over mismanagement by a few executives.

Systemic procrastination

Now, this may seem like harsh criticism to those passing by, surely the Stack Exchange team is doing the best it can? I can't really answer that but I do know they often like to take their sweet time.

For example the latest theme update on the English Language Stack Exchange, the fourth largest site by traffic in the Stack Exchange network, was rather poorly received (the second most downvoted question in ELU Meta history). Users are still not satisfied with the results, but alas, the Stack Exchange team has moved on to new adventures.

As one user put it in February, almost three months after users expressed their dismay at the lack of action from the Stack Exchange team:

I think you've mistaken the request for input as an actual request for input instead of what it really was.

I know this is just one example and I'm sure there are many.

Oversight & scrutiny, the key to sustainable progress?

All this leads me to think there should be a mechanism for keeping employees, the executive if you will, to account. Site-specific Metas are a great place for voicing issues affecting a specific site but they're ignored easily by the executive.

I'm not sure what such a mechanism should look like or if it already exists, but I think it's a real shame to put off veteran contributors over something as minute as site design (or some other matter unrelated to the goal of sharing expert knowledge). It just seems that if the Stack Exchange team works for the benefit of the community then the community should have some checks and controls.

To make it a bit more political without making it too partisan political, let me end on this quote from Parliamentary Oversight for Government Accountability:

Yet parliaments must have not only the tools but also the political will to oversee the government. Only then can they move from formal to liberal democracy because liberal democracy requires effective oversight implementation and not just oversight potential. The major challenge for the international organizations concerned with the promotion and consolidation of democracy is to identify and promote the conditions under which parliaments and parliamentarians are more likely to engage in effective oversight of government activities.

  • 7
    Nope. It's a business. Sorry. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 21:24
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    It's a private business, and community members are not shareholders. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 21:25
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    It's a business. If you don't like how they operate, your recourse is to either not do business with them, or invest enough money in the business to have a say. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 16 at 21:35
  • Where do people get these ideas that if they use an internet service that they kind of own it? – Trilarion Oct 17 at 8:56
  • Yes, the question itself :) Of course they're not accountable to us. They are a privately owned business to which we have chosen to license our content. But they don't make money off of Q&A, and they never agreed to give us power over them. Why should they? I am exceedingly angry at SE, but I don't see how I could presume to request to be given oversight over their employees! Do you expect Twitter or FaceBook to give their communities oversight over their teams? – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 17 at 9:28
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No, this doesn't work, for the same reasons that making a "free speech" claim doesn't work.

At the end of the day, this platform is still owned and operated by Stack Exchange, a privately-held corporation. It's their sandbox; we just have permission to play in it. Have we contributed substantial amounts of unpaid time, effort and content to their network? Of course, no question about that. Does this give us any standing to dictate terms? None whatsoever.

My position is and has always been the same: I don't believe any of this dust-up is good for Stack Exchange. I think it's bad for the communities, bad for marginalized groups and, in the long run, bad for SE's bottom line. I've never told Stack Exchange that they're wrong, just horribly misguided.

I personally think the communities, to the maximum possible extent, should run themselves. That is, after all, one of the founding premises: "The community is run by you."

But, at the end of the day, it's all just my own opinion.

  • 1
    Meh. You're right that this is the status quo, but the point is people are trying to change that. Without users generating content, stack exchange has nothing, and that does give users some leverage. Analogously, most workers can't demand their boss do something and expect them to comply, but if they form a union and threaten to strike, well, that's a different story. – Nate S - Reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 21:05
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    @JJJ: It would require Stack Exchange to voluntarily relinquish some of their oversight. It's not exactly unprecented; if Microsoft can embrace open-source software, anything is possible. – Robert Harvey Oct 16 at 21:05
  • @NateStrickland: Sure. Just don't lose sight of where you are in the pecking order. – Robert Harvey Oct 16 at 21:22

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