55

There's no need to rehash the issues that have led to a lack of trust between the employees of Stack Exchange, Inc and the members of the community. Suffice it to say that astoundingly they continue to assert that they know better than the community about how its sites should work and, instead of apologizing and reinstating Monica have demanded that she go through a process with no transparency, due process, or involvement from the community. Monica has refused to participate.

Has the time has come for Stack Exchange, Inc to spin off the community and all the data needed to keep the sites running to a separate non-profit, who would then in turn license the software from the company?

What's in it for the community?

  • The community can practice self determination for issues from as basic as the number of moderators they have to as fundamental as the policies they enforce.
  • If the company development continues to be unresponsive to the community's needs, the community would be able to develop its own open source software that would meet its needs.
  • They can find their own funding model instead of having ads imposed on them.

What's in it for the company?

  • Community actions will no longer reflect on the company.
  • Interaction with the community as a customer may come more naturally to current leadership than the present paradigm.
  • They don't have to worry about paying for the community's operating expenses.
  • They can focus on doing one thing well.
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    Who's gonna pay for that? – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 6:58
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    "If the company development continues to be unresponsive to the community's needs" I think the current site works very well for 99,983% of the users, only the top 0,027% is unsatisfied. So is there really a gain for the company there, or a loss of those 0,027% walk away? – Luuklag Oct 22 at 7:02
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    @Cerbus Who pays for Wikipedia? – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 7:06
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    Not enough people, as evident by the recurring requests for donations. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:07
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    @Luuklag Maybe what you said is the bitter truth, but from that 99.983%, huge chunk is from users that come and go as the need arises.it doesn't create the valuable content this company is currently getting huge profits this much. I'm pretty sure that more than 0.027% of the users feels disappointed.You asked *So is there really a gain for the company there, or a loss of those 0,027% walk away?*IMHO, yes. that 0.027% includes moderators, content providers(both Q&A). that's the core of the network. not the software, not employees. them.so yes, I think that less than 1% can make huge difference – Vishwa Oct 22 at 7:27
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    Another issue is: Why would SE "give away" their biggest product? SO is what draws the attention to Teams / Jobs... – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:30
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    @Cerbrus Exactly, there's no way this is going to happen. – Mast Oct 22 at 7:39
  • 1
    The communities already control the number of mods. If the current mod team feels they need more help, they ask for an election. This isn't something "controlled" by SE as such. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 8:51
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    @Cerbrus Donations like Wikipedia could pay for a community version. – Alex Oct 22 at 14:28
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    @Jaco: Yea, no. A starting SE clone doesn't get enough traffic to cover the costs in donations. Wikipedia doesn't get enough visitors that want to donate. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 14:29
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    @Cerbrus: If Wikipedia didn't get enough donations, there wouldn't be a response when you go there with your browser. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 15:06
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    @Cerbrus: Wikipedia's balance sheet is very healthy. But the community could also fund itself through ads, cash bounties, our any other way it thinks of. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 15:35
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    @Cerbrus, approximately 3% of Wikipedia's annual budget goes to keeping Wikipedia running. If the Wikimedia Foundation were to cut off all "peripheral activities" (conferences, outreach, etc.), Wikipedia could keep running off cash reserves for another 50 years. – Mark Oct 22 at 20:56
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    @Vishwa The company will not notice until 2 years down the road when they stop getting advertising revenue because they don't have up-to-date content. – user253751 Oct 23 at 10:05
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    An interesting related conversation happens over at MathOverflow. They are already seperate from StackExchange, and are just using the platform. Recently they have been wondering what the deal actually is and how they would be able to migrate to a different platform if it would be ever necessary. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 at 9:21
58

It won't happen. The 'main' question about the issue, Firing mods and forced relicensing: is Stack Exchange still interested in cooperating with the community?, has been viewed 124,000 times (at the time I'm writing this) in three weeks. That's a lot, but it's just a tiny fraction of the 10 million visits to Stack Overflow every day. The traffic to that question is comparable to a site like Code Golf. Not the smallest site in the network, and if they decide to leave they will be missed, but it will hardly make a difference to the network.

(The Official FAQ on gender pronouns and Code of Conduct changes has 110,000 views, mainly because it's across the network, but it could very well be that a typical Stack Overflow user sees a heavily downvoted post, is not interested in the topic and quickly closes their browser tab. And it's still much lower than typical Stack Overflow traffic.)

Bottom line: the vast majority of the users have absolutely no clue about what's going on. They come here to ask their programming questions or answer a few, not to hear about the troubles of the vocal minorities (however important they are).

  • 10
    “Bottom line: the vast majority of the occasional users have absolutely no clue about what's going on.” But if hi-rep users leave, and are leaving SO, the music will change. What if, if, John Skeet were to say something?? – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 at 7:23
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    @Mari-LouA: No, SO will live on. Other users will just take their place (Possibly with lesser quality answers) The majority of SO's users don't give two hoots about what any user says about the site. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:24
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    @Mari-LouA There are a lot of hi-rep users on Stack Overflow with absolutely no participation on Meta(.SO/.SE) whatsoever. My bet is that they will stay. And as Cerbrus says, it opens up possibilities for newcomers who now refrain from posting an answer seeing (e.g.) Jon Skeet already wrote one. – Glorfindel Oct 22 at 7:26
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    Losing hi-rep users with at least six years of participation under their belt will cost SO's reputation dearly. PR counts, Twitter showed us. All the CEO has to do, to regain full control and cooperation and trust is to fire a director. – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 at 7:26
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    @Mari-LouA: Can you link us to some data to back that up? That's news to me. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:29
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    @Mari-LouA Yes, SO reputation is at stake, and losing all those users will certainly do some damage. But, SO more and more seems to be about money than achieving original goal. Maybe we'll have Homework Exchange at the end, but money will be coming for foreseeable future. I guess this whole story may have bigger impact on services SO is trying to sell, like Teams, because people are more careful when they actually spend their money. – Resistance Is Futile Oct 22 at 7:30
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    @Mari-LouA: "Losing hi-rep users with at least six years of participation under their belt will cost SO's reputation dearly. PR counts, Twitter showed us." I'm asking you to substantiate that claim somehow. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:34
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    The "Twitter" refers to last year's episode, when a CM immediately removed a site from HNQ. If word gets out that SO is losing their best users, objectively, that has to involve at the very least thirty users, that is shockingly bad publicity. If quality drops, and it is, and no one with a strong personality is left to curate SO, people will begin to look elsewhere. – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 at 7:37
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    Once you lose a community, you start losing its devotees, the users who provide consistently high quality content, then visitor numbers drop. I've seen it happen on other social networks. – Mari-Lou A Oct 22 at 7:43
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    I don't see that happening over this debacle. But time will tell. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:45
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    @Cerbrus could be - what happens is things snowball, the best users leave, the remaining members stop finding solutions to their problems, the "go-to" nature of SO ends, and then they will drift away to alternative sources of easy answers. SO doesn't exist because of the number of users, it exists because of the number of high-quality answers. – gbjbaanb Oct 22 at 10:46
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  • 1
    Plenty of things in history that people thought would never happen have happened. I never thought I'd ever see Microsoft sell a device running the Linux kernel. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 15:39
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    @Mari-LouA It takes a long time. By that point, whoever made the decision might not even work for SO any more. – user253751 Oct 23 at 10:06
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    I suppose the question is, how critical is the work of volunteers to the overall quality of Stack Exchange sites? If every volunteer mod quit today, what would happen? If that wouldn't have a significant impact, then yes, none of this matters. If community curation and the work of volunteer mods is important, but Stack Exchange can afford to hire staff to do that work, then none of this will likely matter in the long run. But if volunteer mods deliver significant value, and if it also doesn't make financial sense to replace them with staff, then this tiny fraction of core-users matters a ton – BobbyA Oct 28 at 20:33
27

Feel free to leave, develop and run something yourself. If enough people go with you, you may be able to rebuild a community. But you're forgetting two major things here:

Cost and effort.

Somebody is going to have to pay for that, and somebody is going to have to put forward the effort. Building a community isn't easy. Rebuilding one isn't either. The number of people interested in your idea might be substantial (yet not even close to a relevant enough minority), but even if you'd get a hundred or so interested: how many of those are willing to pay for it?

We got something fairly unique with the SE network and that makes it hard to find an alternative. I'm not convinced you can deliver an alternative either. SE has momentum, and it's going to take a bigger dumpster fire than the current one (and all previous ones) to halt that. Which means not only will you have to rebuild a community, you'd facing fierce competition while doing it.

  • 21
    during this debacle, I've watched two attempts at starting a SE clone. Both significantly overlook costs and how tog et the cash to cover that. On top of that, they massively underestimate the amount of work that goes into building a site like this. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:23
  • 1
    If you start now, you will be in SE's position in 10 years. (SE itself took 10 years to get to its position, and Joel has blogged about it) The question is, can you afford to wait 10 years? – user253751 Oct 23 at 10:12
  • 2
    I disagree. It would be easy to replicate the functionality of StackExchange. It's not a mysterious bit of software. Yes, it would be hard to get the momentum, but at some point competition is always a good thing and worth the approach. – The Anathema Oct 23 at 22:21
  • 1
    @TheAnathema Go ahead, try it. You wouldn't be the first to try, but getting it done is something different altogether. – Mast Oct 24 at 4:18
  • As someone who is partaking in such an endeavor as we speak, I can tell you it's a massive undertake. – Marc.2377 Oct 29 at 9:47
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    It's not merely about content, either. You can use the CC BY-SA license on the content to create another for-profit site, even one with minimal futures and mostly content, but you would not get hits due to SEO. Google prefers SO/SE and heavily weights it up the results, and sites using the same content down. Costs and effort aside, you've also got to fight against some of the largest corporations in the world to get any traction. Not likely. Any real threat would be a new type of platform that changes the paradigm, not something built on the same foundations. – Web Head Oct 30 at 5:45
13

Stack Exchange can't keep the community from leaving.

If the community wants to leave, Stack Exchange, Inc cannot keep it from doing so. It can only hope to negotiate more favorable terms. There already has been talk here and on other sites of starting a new service seeded with the questions and answers from the sites here. The proposed spinoff would be better for both parties than a competing service.

  • 21
    The overwhelming majority of SE users have no idea this mess is going on. They're not gonna leave. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:07
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    @Cerbus: They'd go if somewhere else is where the action is. Who uses Sodipodi or Ethereal anymore? – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 7:32
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    Do you have any idea how many Stack Overflow clones already exist? None of them anywhere near as widely used as SO. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:35
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    The overwhelming majority of SE users just wants the answers that we, the minority of user that do care about the current mess, writes – justAnotherUser... Oct 22 at 14:29
  • @Cerbrus I would like to have an idea of how many SO clones already exist. Is there an overview somewhere? – Trilarion Oct 22 at 14:48
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    @Trilarion: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2267/… – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 14:50
11

How about just a step in that direction?

SE could disengage somewhat, & devolve control to the communities on each site: of administrative tasks such as merging accounts, adding question close reasons, arranging elections; & of deciding on & enforcing standards of acceptable behaviour. Rest content with being a host & a service provider, without trying to micro-manage. If any site becomes a positive embarrassment, warn the community once or twice, then shut it if they can't or won't fix the problem.

The immediate benefit to the company would be that they wouldn't need to employ nine Community Managers (& a Director of Public Q&A & a Director of New Community Development)—which must cost them well over 500k$ a year—, while still receiving revenue from advertising. And relations with the communities might well improve with a little more distance & a clearer demarcation of responsibilities.

8

It may be time or it may not be time, nobody knows really until it happens. Anyway it would have to a competitor if the company doesn't just donate the software and domain names, which I think is unlikely. But experience tells us that market leaders seldomly stay in that position forever.

Some general thoughts:

  • The activity on the network is in slow decline in number of questions, answers and views of new contributions since a few years. It's not just StackOvefflow. This trend might continue.
  • The signal to noise ratio might decrease further with the missing emphasis on quality, reducing the overall usefulness.
  • Progress in technology might make it easier to clone the platform technically in the future.
  • There might be a tipping point in user migration. At some point migration might accelerate.
  • StackOverflow needed around one year of growth to be established back then in 2009.
  • A competitor would not start at zero with the content but rather on kind of equal height. The license of the content is unfortunately unclear currently.
  • A clear vision where a competitor would be different from the current SO model would probably be helpful.
  • 1
    Content written before the purported relicensing is still under the old license. This includes any edits to it. Content written after that date is under the new license. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 22 at 23:16
2

It must sound like a very otherworldly thing to say - Stack Exchange losing its momentum, fire, and even going down the pits, but do not fool yourself by thinking just because the number of people potentially leaving this site due to their issues with the current affair of events, being less than 1%, will not change a thing.

Everything's going to change.

The world as we know it is controlled by far less than 1% of Earth's total population. Look how that's been going. We have a system, and you can't lift a finger (everything's governed by money). If those people lifted their hands in the air and said "we've had enough", no system will exist.

Stack Exchange isn't a deity. It's your every-day company across the street that shares its success thanks to its users, and most importantly - the ones who're so intoxicated into their amazing idea, that they'd be willing to expand it into the tangible reality as part of their own volition. Those people are the moderators. Those people, who crave to add their community to Stack Exchange, and like agents try to push it to the very top, promoting all those "beta" label requirements to their peers, because they need them to be fulfilled. They are the driving force. Infected by this ideal, they make their way along the ladder, gaining new permissions, making them feel even more special, until they reach the pillar.

What pillar? The company's governed by its products - the users. They simply have to turn their original idea into multiple profitable ones, and you get a thriving self-driven business.

We're all here because we're good people. We want to help others. We want to build a repository of all possible questions and answers - a great idea. But you need to realize that every effort you pour out of your soul, you pour into the bowls of this company. And as a company, they profit out of you.

If you as a person, even for a second believe you've been abused, especially if you're the one that made this site become what it is - simply stop being their patriot. There are tons of other companies out there who'd welcome you in with open arms, and even bargain with you just to use them.

Often the biggest things in our world, are the most fragile.

-3

Both yes and no

I think there are two different issues at play here, firstly StackOverflow. This site is too big to move its community overnight. I live in hope that one day there will be a better option than SE for that particular community but in many ways it's the least affected by recent changes, I think ultimately its size will sustain it for many years to come.

The smaller sites are a different matter entirely, IMO a number of them are no longer viable (cf religious sites + life advice site such as parenting). I think it's likely that large sections of those communities will move elsewhere or disengage completely. Its sites like this that would benefit immediately from a similar to SE alternative.

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