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I've seen a bunch of things lately and finally this is my last thought on this process.

Stack Exchange sites are communities: we're not one community, but multiple which overlap in myriads of manners by the individuals composing them.

An important point is that those communities exist around a company, and the people from the company must be part of the community for it to exist and evolve smoothly.

I won't rehash that last point, as it has been said here ad nauseam, but tonight I stumbled over a GitLab post which I think Stack Exchange could learn a lot from.

Summary of the post: on October 10th, 2019, GitLab announced a planned change on their TOS which received a bunch of backlash from the community over privacy concerns, break of trust. Sound similar?
Today, October 24th, 2019, they updated the post to say they had rolled back the changes and opened an issue to collect feedback to find an acceptable compromise for everyone.

It took them 14 days to admit an error, roll back and open the talks. Stack Exchange, you won't undo the harm you did nor regain lost contributors quickly, but I think dissecting this case could help you do better in the future.

So, Stack Exchange, are you interested and if so did you find something usable for you when looking at this case? (I'm not expecting an answer this week, in case it needs to be said.)

  • I essentially want to copy and paste my answer from here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/336458/… - because now it isn't as simple as that anymore but I guess if they rolled back, it would be a start. – Script47 Oct 24 at 20:40
  • Can't counter that @Script47, take it as my Swansong giving them something to take inspiration from. My question is if they are interested in learning from otee sources finally – Tensibai Oct 24 at 20:41
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    @Gloweye I respectfully disagree, my question is directed at StackExchange specifically if they want to learn from another case handled differently – Tensibai Oct 24 at 20:47
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    @Tensibai sadly, I don't think you'll get an answer, at all, irrespective of timeline. – Script47 Oct 24 at 20:48
  • @Script47 I don't count on it, I just hope they'll read it, the isuues linked and the talk there – Tensibai Oct 24 at 20:49
  • You're completely free to disagree with me. It's not like im the oracle of truth or anything. However, both questions are, at their core, about the break of trust between community and company, and therefore I think reasonable answers could be copy/pasted. – Gloweye Oct 24 at 20:50
  • @Gloweye fair point, I've changed the title to something I hope better convey my point. – Tensibai Oct 24 at 20:52
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    It's not clear to me that the situations are analogous. My suspicion is that the bulk of the controversy here has to do with activities associated with the introduction of the CoC and not the contents of the CoC itself. – Gort the Robot Oct 24 at 20:55
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    The situation sounds very similar to me in change pushed hastily on people, with a different reaction, the COC is just one, TOS change, License change, ads on the network are other where SE had the same 'wrong' behavior IMHO @StevenBurnap. So I wonder if SE may learn something from how gitlab handled this case – Tensibai Oct 24 at 20:58
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    Did gitlab find themselves in a situation where backtracking would lose them a potential lawsuit? – SolveIt Oct 24 at 23:53
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    @StevenBurnap - I don't think there is any 'bulk of the controversy' that's mostly about one thing. It's more things at once than most people could engineer if they tried. That's what it makes it so special. Making it about one thing lets them off the hook for the others. They started a bunch of fires at once. For all we know they're still playing with matches. I'm not sure if learning from anyone's experience is going to be in the picture soon. – Scott Hannen Oct 25 at 0:44
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    I mentioned Reddit then-CEO Ellen Pao's firing of Jesse Jackson as an example, how a community can create a big enough movement to have stakeholders worried. – James Wong - Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 8:19
  • @JamesWong-ReinstateMonica you mean Alexis Ohanian's (u/kn0thing) firing of Victoria Taylor (u/chooter)? As someone who is familiar with the whole thing, I think the parallels to the Reddit situation a lot. Reddit moderators have a lot more power over their communities though. – justcool393 Nov 28 at 21:10
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    Same with Slack. They tweeted: We recently released a WYSIWYG editor to help you format messages in Slack. To the users who preferred the text markdown from before, we heard you. Starting today, you can choose how you’d like to format messages by going to Preferences > Advanced > Input Options. #changelog. – fedorqui says Reinstate Monica Dec 4 at 9:13
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+50

Only Stack Exchange employees can answer the title question here definitively—although actually, since it's asking about the interests of an entire company, it gets trickier than that. The question might be restated as to whether those individuals who have made the decisions (to double down and to ignore Monica's attempts to resolve things amicably) are interested in learning from GitLab's case.

Or whether those individuals senior to the responsible decision makers are interested in learning from a similar case.

If they are interested, though, GitLab has taken their reversal a step further and the CEO has issued a proper and full apology for the 3rd-party tracking misstep/fiasco.

This is what's been sent out by email to all GitLab users (note I didn't copy the inline links; you can see those in the original text at the link above):

Dear GitLab users and customers,

On October 23, we sent an email entitled “Important Updates to our Terms of Service and Telemetry Services” announcing upcoming changes. Based on considerable feedback from our customers, users, and the broader community, we reversed course the next day and removed those changes before they went into effect. Further, GitLab will commit to not implementing telemetry in our products that sends usage data to a third-party product analytics service. This clearly struck a nerve with our community and I apologize for this mistake.

So, what happened? In an effort to improve our user experience, we decided to implement user behavior tracking with both first and third-party technology. Clearly, our evaluation and communication processes for rolling out a change like this were lacking and we need to improve those processes. But that’s not the main thing we did wrong.

Our main mistake was that we did not live up to our own core value of collaboration by including our users, contributors, and customers in the strategy discussion and, for that, I am truly sorry. It shouldn’t have surprised us that you have strong feelings about opt-in/opt-out decisions, first versus third-party tracking, data protection, security, deployment flexibility and many other topics, and we should have listened first.

So, where do we go from here? The first step is a retrospective that is happening on October 29 to document what went wrong. We are reaching out to customers who expressed concerns and collecting feedback from users and the wider community. We will put together a new proposal for improving the user experience and share it for feedback. We made a mistake by not collaborating, so now we will take as much time as needed to make sure we get this right. You can be part of the collaboration by posting comments in this issue. If you are a customer, you may also reach out to your GitLab representative if you have additional feedback.

I am glad you hold GitLab to a higher standard. If we are going to be transparent and collaborative, we need to do it consistently and learn from our mistakes.

Sincerely,
Sid Sijbrandij
Co-Founder and CEO
GitLab

Stack Exchange should definitely learn from GitLab's example. Whether they will or not is a question that only time will tell.

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    That is what a proper acknowledgement, apology, and repair looks like. Kudos to GitLab's CEO! – Monica Cellio Oct 30 at 0:20
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    "If we are going to be transparent and collaborative", I understand that SE core product is based on collaborative community content and I really don't get why the company is letting this matter derail so badly. Come on, SE, we're trying to keep holding you at a higher stardard :( – brasofilo Oct 30 at 3:07
  • You ninjaed me on the update :) – Tensibai Oct 30 at 6:34
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    Gitlbab had actual paying customer getting angry at them. SE has ads. – Prof. Falken supports Monica Nov 28 at 9:55
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    @MonicaCellio In order to apologize they must believe they were wrong. They don't. They believe that everyone else is wrong. – Fermi paradox Nov 28 at 14:03
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The question suggests that SE not repairing (perceived) damage to the community is a matter of not knowing how, of incompetence. Needing to learn how to repair and apologize first. If only they knew how, they would.

It does not occur to me as them being unable to repair or apologize, rather they are unwilling. If willing, it would be pretty trivial to repair almost all damage in a day or two. If I was CEO, I'd solve it all before the weekend:

  • Reinstate Monica under a private agreement not to follow up legally. Public apology statement here, also to the press. Seems a bold move, it's not. Almost none of SO's users will know or care nor will investors care. So why the hell not.
  • Reverse silly loop feedback mechanism and undo plan to cancel Meta. Assign one employee one day per week to make an inventory of top issues and plug it into the ticket system. Once per month, communicate out roadmap. Which will include statements on why some things will not be done. Difficult? No. Costly? No.
  • Publish a toned down policy on pronouns that respects alternative views, languages, religions in a way such that any violation isn't immediately fatal. A more reasonable system with warnings and second chances.
  • Relicensing: cannot be repaired so here I would play evil CEO and just forcefully push ahead.

This I'd do before the weekend. It costs nothing and risk is low. On Monday, I'd look at a few additional cheap actions to make moderators allies instead of enemies, because who doesn't want free labor and product marketing?

None of these steps require learning. They are child's play, straightforward and common sense. Not doing any of these repair actions to me means simply being unwilling to do them.

Come to think of it, I could actually assign a moderator to do the feedback cataloguing, even cheaper. In return I'd give them a crown emoji, this is usually enough to motivate free labor. I'm really growing in this role.

The brutal lesson learned between these cases is that GitLab cannot afford to ignore their community. Free users can migrate away from GitLab to GitHub or another competitor in a day. Free users next may influence their enterprise product success. The community has real leverage, existential leverage.

The second reason a repair action was inevitable is of a legal nature. Their move very likely violated GDPR. Fighting such an illegal move does not require some expensive trial by an individual user, it just takes a single person reporting the issue to privacy authorities, and there's a good chance an official investigation will commence. So it had to be done, regardless of community.

Community leverage is vastly different between the cases. The ultimate proof of that is in the plan to simply shut down Meta. Meta is a tiny vocal minority of an infinitely larger community. It has no existential leverage over the network. Apparently, it can simply be shutdown entirely, and 99% of the network will not even notice, at least not directly, or so the company thinks. Also, there's few to none interchangeable services to run to.

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    Your question was not what the learning could be, it was whether they are interested. That I tried to answer. Since they made zero attempt to fix even the easiest thing to repair, and given the plan to simply remove Meta altogether, to me that's a clear no. Not interested. – Fer Nov 29 at 0:20
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    Fair point, I'd probably read your answer too quickly, – Tensibai Nov 29 at 6:09
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    Relicensing: cannot be repaired so here I would play evil CEO and just forcefully push ahead. I disagree. A court can rule that the retroactive change was illegal, and that they must not distribute content wrongfully. – jhpratt GOFUNDME RELICENSING Nov 29 at 6:52
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There is an ample abundance of helpful advice that Stack Exchange Inc. could look into.

For example, right there, on one of the first responses, that first "apology", you had a respected community member telling SE Inc. what the community was looking for.

Meaning: there is no need to point out further, other examples.

If the CEO of SE Inc. cares, he has assigned a person to follow MSE full time, to collect the main sentiments and to guide the next steps. Alas, it doesn't exactly feel like that happened. Edit: Yaookov commented somewhere that SE Inc. reads "everything", but alas: if so, they are really bad at showing the community that our concerns are heard and dealt with in reasonable ways.

Thus, the point is not: a lack of guidance, or "examples" to follow. The problem is of a very different nature.

The way how SE Inc. fired a well respected moderator, and how they miserably failed to make up in that regard week after week, that is the major problem at this point that overshadows everything else. It seems to me that SE Inc. got itself into a corner, and sees no way out without losing face, so they decided to "sit out" that very problem.

To be clear: of course, how GitLab handled their mistake makes a great example. Thus the question, and the other answer are spot on. All I am saying is: I simply believe that SE Inc. has a hard time following that example because, as said above: potential loss of face.

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    I agree that there's a lot of advice on how this could be solved. However, I still see a difference between "here is what (a member/part of) the community thinks you should handle it" and "here is how an actual company actually handled a similar situation." IOW, I see value in this Q. – Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 8:22
  • @ReinstateMonica I didn't say that the question has no value, or should be closed. I actually upvoted it. I am just saying: "more input" doesn't necessarily solve a situation of "not enough output". Sure, the github CEO statement would be great guidance for SE Inc. But that is already nicely explained in the first answer given here. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 8:25
  • Got it. What I wanted to say was that I see this Q as not just more input, but a fundamentally different kind of input. Nevertheless, I think I get your point better now. – Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 8:27
  • @ReinstateMonica I added another paragraph to make my point more clear. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 8:34
  • @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica I agree, my point is trying to push under their eyes another recent example by another CEO outside SE network. I kind of hope I'll get a SE answer someday saying it was an useful input (or that they don't need any advice to run their business) – Tensibai Oct 30 at 13:23
  • @Tensibai I kind of hope I'll get a SE answer someday saying it was an useful input (or that they don't need any advice to run their business) ... there is a German proverb that roughly translates to "to wait and to hope turns many into fools". Not meant as insult, just meant as guidance regarding expectation management. – GhostCat says Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 13:31
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    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica Well, I said "kind of", I don't really expect one. Leaving the network is a bit hard, so I sleep better knowing I tried something I think can be inspiring. – Tensibai Oct 30 at 13:35
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I'm sure most public-facing SE staff know what happened after all when years back Reddit fired Victoria Taylor. Although details vary this time, the general ideas behind the event remain compatible.

  • The case here is around the same time as the actual Fiasco here, which I find to make it really relevant, specially by the TOS update and privacy issue which reminded the CC 4.0 and tracking by ads here, it's less about Monica firing, I should maybe add that to the question. – Tensibai Oct 30 at 14:01

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