I swore that what I'm seeing around here is something I've read about before; and sure enough from a person that's close to the structure here:


The TL;DR of that article discusses how small orgs that grow too large tend to try and codify everything into "the methodology" a set of rules designed to make anyone capable of producing some output X. In the article this is a fast food hamburger, so easy to make that you can learn how in a few minutes with extremely consistent results.

The flip side of course is that "the methodology" tends to push away those with true mastery of the task; master chefs can produce amazing food with varied ingredients and no written instructions. But their skills are not easily replicated to others.

I fear SE is working itself into the anti-pattern presented here. We're slowly driving away the skilled and longstanding members of the community and instituting many new "Policies" (sometimes adding them where the community already had something in place).

It looks like the generalized "Be respectful" and community based moderation is being pushed toward a codified set of rules for any possible infraction; once we write enough rules we won't need human exception handlers.

I hope we can read the writing on the wall... by someone that helped put the wall there.

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    Ironically, that's written by Joel Spolsky... one of our founders, former CEO and currently a Chairman. Oct 22, 2019 at 19:31
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    @S.L.Barth Yep, that was not lost on me. I hope that hitting that close to home might raise an eyebrow or two.
    – Culyx
    Oct 22, 2019 at 19:32
  • Awesome. I remember reading that before but I didn't make the link. Oct 22, 2019 at 20:18
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    It certainly seems to be in the latter stages of the "policies for everything" cycle.
    – Richard
    Oct 22, 2019 at 21:23
  • You may be interested in this old "koan" too. That said, I am not sure about the "why we got there" part, nor that this is the actual problem we are facing.
    – SPArcheon
    Oct 23, 2019 at 7:46
  • Prophetic blogpost. The Naked Chef did create a restaurant chain and it did fail: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – hayd
    Oct 24, 2019 at 4:33
  • The "Policies" are accompanied by processes and FAQs. But maybe Big Macs are what we are supposed to produce here? So it could all be fine. Oct 24, 2019 at 8:36

2 Answers 2


That is rich; thanks for sharing.

For one, it's an entertaining read. You can tell it was written in the old days, before SE became so obsessed with inclusivity:

You can have an IQ that hovers somewhere between “idiot” and “moron” (to use the technical terms) and you’ll still be able to produce Big Macs that are exactly as unsurprising as all the other Big Macs in the world. The rules have been carefully designed by reasonably intelligent people so that dumdums can follow them just as well as smart people.

And then, of course, there is this insightful TL;DR at the end (emphasis in original):

What’s the moral of the story? Beware of Methodologies. They are a great way to bring everyone up to a dismal, but passable, level of performance, but at the same time, they are aggravating to more talented people who chafe at the restrictions that are placed on them.

Ever since this whole Monica debacle blew up, I have been wondering why my involvement with SE has become so much less rewarding by the day, and so much more like drudgery each week. I think you've allowed me to figure out why, though: I'm starting to feel like I work at McDonald's.

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    At McDonald's, at least you get paid. Oct 22, 2019 at 21:12
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    Unlike this site, McDonald's doesn't advertise itself as a place where you get expert answers to your question and it doesn't offer you the best (food), it doesn't claim to either. I think it's all about expectations and how to manage them. McDonald's employees know they make simple but tasty foods at low prices. We kid ourselves that we're working on a great repository of answers to the world's questions.
    – JJJ
    Oct 22, 2019 at 21:13
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    @JJJ A little cynical, yeah? I still derive insane value from SO in my work on a daily basis. Maybe we've forgotten what it was like before we had SO... Oct 22, 2019 at 21:18
  • I agree with @NathanArthur SO is still very valuable to the work I do, which perhaps aside from involvment is why many feel it's worth protecting.
    – Culyx
    Oct 22, 2019 at 21:21

I asked this! Though obviously not as well :)

Sure I think SO has started to change from a bunch of guys doing one cool thing well, into a rigid corporate entity focussed on control of the product and "the brand", and as a result will end up breaking what they had before. The trick on this transition is to maintain just enough of the old system that it still provides the service until such time that the corporate masters re-focus (voluntarily, or are forced to) on the product again and rediscover what made it great before.

It'll never get back to the old days though, it will have to evolve into something else, and I fear that also means the community will be sidelined in favour of staff mods and organised, formal approaches.

I have read that people out there consider SO to have reached a point of failure anyway, bad answers getting upvoted, downvotes without explanation, duplicate answers, obsolete answers. I find it hard now to discover good answers to my asp.net code problems, because ASP.NET has changed so much and all the good answers on SO are for old versions and useless to me. Others have the same experience, so apart from the way they handled it all, it's possibly a good thing the site is changing.

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    'staff mods' are CMs. I'd say more of those is good Oct 22, 2019 at 22:09
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    I 'd say bad upvoted answers are a consequence of most experts being gone or not contributing anymore. There has been erosion for years. No up to date answers is also a result of that, combined with SO not coming up with any ideas how the problem could be resolved.
    – sth
    Oct 22, 2019 at 22:52
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    The Eternal September event happened to Stack Overflow a long, long time ago (long before "the summer of love" (2012?), etc.). Jeff Atwood described it as "We have big city problems on Stack Overflow" (from the podcast, paraphrased). Yes, something qualitatively very different needs to happen, including adding a place for beginners (so the knowledge repository will not be polluted) and removal of the things that prevents updating content (e.g. less emphasis on authorship (read reputation points cash cows) and more emphasis on the wiki aspect). Oct 23, 2019 at 21:07

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