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It seems that Stack Exchange is doing an increasingly poor job of communicating with the community about policy changes, decision-making processes, and problem solving. This has caused or exacerbated a number of recent crises, and is actively contributing to many of us feeling more and more distant from the company. I doubt I'm alone when I say that I feel like I don't really know Stack Exchange, Inc., any more. And if you don't know someone, it's substantially harder to trust them.

One way to build trust, then, is to bring employees and community members closer together, so we can see the humans on the other side of the monitor. I've found that chat is a great way for that to happen. Shog talking about chicken-fried steak in The Tavern, for instance, builds trust on some subconscious level. There's a person behind those words. As a mod, I tend to get more access to CMs through the Teacher' Lounge, and I've found that that access builds trust in those particular individuals, whereas I have less trust in the employees I don't interact with. It's not just correlation at work. It's human nature.

We used to have Town Hall chats on Meta, with the most recent reincarnation happening in 2017 (see an earlier post for details). Those seemed to be reasonably successful; I certainly enjoyed them. I would bet that they helped bridge the company-community gap a little, and I would further bet that more regular chats would do more.

Here's my proposal: We bring these chats back. They could happen maybe . . . once a week? Twice a month? (Timing estimates are not my strong suit.) The exact time could vary to accommodate folks in a variety of timezones. The chats would be ideally focused around a topic proposed in advance by community members and would provide an interactive way to informally discuss concerns, policies, and decisions. They'd provide users with a window into the company, and employees with another window into the userbase. The users feel like they better have the ear of Stack Exchange, Inc. - because they would. I don't have a great idea of the logistic particulars, and would love to hear suggestions for how to make this work.

The current relationship between the company and the community is not sustainable. It's not. Providing a space and a time for communication can be one part of the solution.


Note: As a clarification, I should add that this is not intended to be a measure to mitigate or solve the problems we're dealing with at present. It is intended as a way to reduce the chance of the company jumping off the same cliff in the future.

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    I doubt town halls will have a positive effect before they address the really egregious problem they've created. – Monica Cellio Oct 23 at 16:02
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    @MonicaCellio Town halls are going to do squat about the current crisis, yeah - and I'm not suggesting they will. This is definitely not a solution to that. It's just one more way to try to get to company to not jump off the same cliff again. – HDE 226868 Oct 23 at 16:03
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    But until they address the current problem they've created, I don't think they could have a productive town hall. They can say "we refuse to discuss the elephant in the room" but it'll still be there. People are rightly upset, and that's not a good foundation for a friendly chat. I agree that town halls would be great after they repair this damage. – Monica Cellio Oct 23 at 16:10
  • @MonicaCellio Again, I'm not saying this is something that should happen right now. It's not a short-term solution, and it's not supposed to address the current issues. – HDE 226868 Oct 23 at 16:11
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    These would favour users in the right timezones, unfortunately. – Modus Tollens Oct 23 at 16:14
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    @ModusTollens Yeah, it would. I suppose it could be on a rotating schedule (which could also vary based on which employee(s) is running it on that particular occasion). – HDE 226868 Oct 23 at 16:15
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    You, initially, should ask SE team, if they want to communicate with community at all. – Suvitruf says Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 16:40
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    While I think this would help humanize the CM team...I'm not sure the conversations would be all that helpful; chances are good they're going to be giant dogpiles against the CMs, and things will very quickly take a turn for the worst, negating any benefit to be had. – fbueckert Oct 23 at 17:05
  • I don't think poor communication is the biggest problem. We understand what they did, we understand the new CoC. And they understand the range of reactions to it. It is the substance of these things that are the biggest issue. – James Reinstate Monica Polk Oct 23 at 20:00
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    This entire debacle started in a chat room. Going back to the same bullshit communication method that caused all of this isn’t going to solve anything unless your solution is to burn it all down. I know some folks think chat is the bomb for collaboration, but it doesn’t scale and it’s not friendly to people who aren’t extremely fluent in English. This isn’t going to get fixed until SE stops trying to hide what they actually want, which is an environment where everyone agrees (or seems to) with their politics. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 23 at 20:30
  • As @JamesKPolk says, communication isn't the issue here. SE has convincingly shown that they're not interested in listening to, and have no intention to listen to, the community, much less to actually follow the community's wishes. All such a town hall meeting would provide is yet another venue for SE to show that they're not interested. The problem is with what SE is doing, not with how they're communicating it, and all the signs point to SE having no intention at all of modifying their behavior in a way that would be acceptable to the community. – Crowman Oct 23 at 20:40
  • @ModusTollens If they do it at 10AM EST then it will be 7AM in Los Angeles to 10PM in Hong Kong. That covers most of the world. – SurpriseDog Oct 23 at 21:34
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The current relationship between the company and the community is not sustainable.

At this point, we've got a much bigger problem.

What was before a simple (not really, though) "community vs company" has now split further. We now - as you might be able to tell from various comments - have further rifts within the "community" itself and honestly, I'm not so sure how we'd even go about fixing that.

These (political, social, religious etc.) differences in the community of course existed between users prior to the CoC debacle but they were never discussed as they've never played a focal point in any of the sites, but now, with the CoC playing a major role in all three of those aspects, it isn't the case anymore.

"community vs company" can be solved by SE (and only SE) through some plain old transparency into the fiascoes that took place over the last month, so many calls for this have been made by various users.

Your idea actually might help, though, on the other hand, it might just escalate the situation much more.

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I think that this is a well-intentioned idea, but I don't believe it to be sustainable. Perhaps someone can prove me wrong, but having an effective Town Hall style chat at the scale that Stack Exchange is at today is almost impossible - we are millions of users (I'm sure an SEDE query can identify the number of unique user accounts) across 170+ communities.

Instead of global Town Halls, I think a couple of things are more realistic.

First, moderators need to be the liaisons that they were intended to be. Every Stack Exchange community has a Help Center page that defines the role of the moderators. The very last identified role is that of a liaison between the community and the company. This goes two ways. Moderators need to be vocal (and there are appropriate outlets for it) to the company about issues and concerns. The company also needs to bring information to moderators before going public with it (as we've seen with the drafts of the removal process and the updated CoC pronoun FAQ). Continuing and improving this bidirectional communication is essential.

Second, staff should be interacting more on MetaSE. There are plenty of discussions with no input from staff. Plenty of feature requests that are not closed, but also don't have a status-* tag applied. Plenty of questions that can be given a more authoritative answer from staff rather than just a seasoned community member (even if that "answer" is a comment confirming the correctness of an already given answer). In some cases, it may even be possible to solicit feedback on ideas from the community, but ideally it's gone through moderators first to take care of any likely common concerns.

Third, and this is probably more optional, but seeing staff members asking and answering questions, participating in chats, and just generally using the services provided here would be nice.

I like the intention of the post here. But I do want to ensure that any solution is actually scalable given the current size of the user base, number of unique communities, and size of the SE staff (particularly the CM team).

  • Yeah, scaling is an issue. I wonder if anyone has stats about the size of previous town halls, though I imagine they'd be larger now than before. I agree that size would be less of an issue if this is only a smaller component of a larger strategy of engagement, which I support. – HDE 226868 Oct 23 at 18:13
  • @HDE226868 I do think that smaller town hall style things would work. Not sure how they would be organized, though. But the old style of open invitations to everyone in the community would be so chaotic, I'm not sure what good would come from them. – Thomas Owens Oct 23 at 22:08
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If we set aside the elephant in the room for a moment, I don't think chat is the best way to speak with the global community due to time zone differences.

Chat moves very fast, and lengthy discussions not separated into threads may be hard to follow for both newbies and experiences chat users. Keeping up with discussions by looking up which messages reply to which is near impossible if they're separated by more than a vertical screen height's distance.

Question and Answer format here on Meta moves at a much more manageable pace, and allows users to take their time to compose messages and comment under specific posts, keeping discussion organized.


side note: If we had a threaded forum but with compact posts (like multi-level threaded Reddit comment structure, as opposed to single-level "comments under posts" structure on StackExchange Q&A engine), I think that format would be a lot better suited for discussions, allowing for sub-threads under big topics where users can discuss details between each other without interfering with other comments under the same post (thread root).

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Too little, too late.

SE, having shot itself in the foot, has decided to go full auto. I remember the postings where they referred to themselves as "benevolent dictators", and then threw Monica to the wolves, and committed what may well be libel in a news story.

SE has lost the trust of the user base, as evidenced by the old FAQ getting hit with a -1930 rating, before getting deleted.

A town hall will not cut it.

At this point, I'm not sure what, if anything will.

They have managed, in the course of a few scant weeks, to destroy the good will that has been built up for years.

They have yet to issue a public apology to Monica They have yet to retract the libel published about Monica They continue to censor and delete en masse, any disagreements or discussions.

Although it would be amusing to witness such a town hall, as many would come with pitchforks and torches, they need to heal the wounds first and foremost before they do anything. At this point, I don't even know if that is possible.

  • As I've said, this isn't an attempt to solve the current crisis. There are many more (and more important) steps that need to be taken; I'm just thinking about what things are going to need to be like down the road. – HDE 226868 Oct 23 at 22:08
  • @HDE226868 this isn't going to go away, which is why, down the road, people will STILL be pissed. There is no going by, over, or around this, And, if they don't address the libel, there will be no further down the road, and the cavalier attempts to ignore it only make people more angry] – Richard says Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 22:44
  • I'm . . . not saying that it will go away. And I'm not saying we don't need to do other things. – HDE 226868 Oct 23 at 23:35
  • "They have managed, in the course of a few scant weeks, to destroy the good will that has been built up for years." correction this wasn't a single incident. SE have been eroding community trust for years. In many ways, this was just the straw that broke the back of community trust. Doesn't help that it was more multiple issues hitting at (roughly) the same time and SE's actions were worse than previous incidents. Anyway, I disagree with the notion that this destroyed the good will. It's actions over a much larger timespan that did it and this one was just par for the course taken. – VLAZ Oct 24 at 4:44
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    @VLAZ Oh, I was warning people two years ago, but this crossed the line into a whole new level of malfeasance with dragging someone's name through the public eye. – Richard says Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 12:21

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