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I have seen some hypotheses that the recent series corporate actions and statements are a sign of SO/SE being in the process of being, or about to be, sold. Arguments cited include the corp statements being made in paywalled areas and addressed to an audience that seems very distinct from the community, the choice of CEO, the push for a 'service sector' flavour of tensely smiling hospitality, and surely some more I can't recall in a coherent form.

Just how plausible and implausible, and how founded or unfounded, is such a hypothesis? Is it, as far as people more knowledgeable either about business in general or about the specific case of SE/SO, strategically consistent or even outright connected with the corp's behaviour (and a likely cause thereof)?

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    I really hope, if they are going to sell it, it is not to an company like Facebook or Twitter, those are the ones the new changes match the values of. If they were to sell to someone like Microsoft, who did buy Git Hub, it might be OK. – Mark Kirby Nov 15 '19 at 13:20
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    @MarkKirby seriously? Microsoft would be an improvement for you? In terms of its values? You must have had a very different experience with that company than I have. I would consider the sale of SE to any of the mentioned companies a tragedy. – terdon Nov 15 '19 at 13:24
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    @terdon-stopharmingMonica I'm not saying Microsoft would be better for the values, it just seems like those values are the ones that align. I am saying they would be better than the social networks because of the type of company they are. Do you want Facebook integration in every site? At least Microsoft are a technology company and not a social network. – Mark Kirby Nov 15 '19 at 13:27
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    The CEO said in his recent statement that they’re looking to raise more funding in a round next year. If they were in a position for an exit (sale), I think he would not have said that. But the effect is the same on us: they need to show numbers, to show growth, and that means more “sand”. Also, increasingly, to satisfy the VCs in the valley, a company now usually also has to have a credible social mission, which will be their internal and external talking points around any changes they make to induce growth, rather than talking about growth as a raw economic objective. – Dan Bron Nov 15 '19 at 13:28
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    @MarkKirby I don't want Microsoft integration any more than I want Facebook. I have carefully avoided both companies for many years now. Any multinational would be a horrible outcome, but one of the big tech companies? That doesn't bear thinking about. – terdon Nov 15 '19 at 13:32
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    @terdon-stopharmingMonica I agree, selling it would be worse than not but if we really have to deal with that then I really just hope we don't get a social network company. I have no loyalty to Microsoft, they were just the first one I thought of. – Mark Kirby Nov 15 '19 at 13:36
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    @terdon-stopharmingMonica To be fair, Microsoft buying GitHub didn't turn out so bad. Though they did utterly murder Skype... – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 15 '19 at 13:44
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica give it time... – terdon Nov 15 '19 at 14:05
  • If they're about to be sold, I'm not sure creating a public outrage that reaches the media, getting sued and alienating their community is the smartest move. If they were getting sold/going for an IPO, they'd probably want to contact and reinstate Monica ASAP to fix the pending lawsuit. – Erik A Nov 15 '19 at 15:08
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    @ErikReinstateMonicA the people who make decisions about purchasing companies don't care about those things. They care about the ability to attract new users and ad views. – OrangeDog Nov 15 '19 at 16:10
  • If you do a news search on recent articles mentioning SE, you'll get results like this one. I didn't check, but it seems all the results may derive from the same root source. – Paused until further notice. Nov 16 '19 at 0:13
  • Sold? No, but there is going to be a round of capital investment and that may be part of the explanation. – Mast Jan 20 at 6:40
  • @Mast Does the MSO branch of SE have a style guide, and what is its stance on question titles being cased as titles normally are? – vicky_molokh Jan 20 at 7:52
  • (Asking because last I checked, things are said to be left alone so long as they conform to a recognised English style principle set, and editorial warring between different styles is discouraged.) – vicky_molokh Jan 20 at 7:57
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    Only newspapers and blogs do everything in Title Case. Here, question-titles should be proper sentences whenever possible and sentences aren't Title Cased. Readability is more important than antiquated standards. – Mast Jan 20 at 9:05
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+50

Enforcing of PC culture and various related ideologies happens in many technological giants. News of employees being angry about internal policies, compelled speech, affirmative action, censorship, preferences for specific political parties and other effects of enforced PC are becoming a regular occurrence. Just read the news. It's everywhere to some degree.

It doesn't seem to be related to the companies planning to be sold. It's all about how company management handles the changes in the society, who they listen to, what priorities they have and what they see as beneficial for the company, its products, its users, its customers.

We're at the epicenter of changes to the society norms, which happen whether we want them or not. There're obvious positive effects, but there're negative effects too, both to minorities and majorities. Sometimes company management understands this, sometimes it doesn't and sometimes it doesn't have a choice. When the hurricane of changes settles, we as humanity will have a clearer picture of what works and what doesn't. Before that, we can only rely on trial and error.

I'd also like to add that we shouldn't fear of SO being sold. SO has already lost its benevolent dictators and connection to the community, so another company ruling over SO is a chance gained rather than a chance lost.

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    "Everywhere" meaning "in the USA". – I am not the way you speak Nov 15 '19 at 20:08
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    @iamnot Everywhere the technological giants originate from, which happens to be the US, which happens to be the place where the problems of the PC culture are easiest to notice. So in a way, yes, but it doesn't describe the whole picture as the cultural norms evolve around the world. Both positive and negative effects are certainly not unique to the US. – Athari - Make SE Awesome Again Nov 15 '19 at 20:38
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    The problem wasn't "enforcement of PC culture" – user253751 Jan 21 at 14:13
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It doesn't have to be "sold", they could be reorganising and fundraising in order to set it up to be listed as an IPO.

It does seem that the organisation is moving towards a more corporate style, with the usual CEO more interested in "business" and the "woke" code of conduct designed to make things more in line with other tech companies.

If they are heading for some form of monetisation of the company then they will desperately want to show growth numbers from users, and potential further growth numbers - hence the "let's be more welcoming" guff that's gone so wrong.

Of course, they could address the real issues that cause users to come and then leave (highlighted on other blogs, such as removing the restrictions on new users to be able to comment, see votes etc that currently make them feel like 2nd class citizens), but if they're looking to sell, then making it look like they've addressed it is more important than actually addressing it.

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This is just speculation, but to me it has the appearance of a company that's trying to diversify its own product portfolio, attract investors and advertisers, and disrupt the status quo for sweeping changes rather than small, incremental changes towards its goals.

On MySpace I was involved with moderating the chat rooms, and on MyYearbook I had a high number of followers. In both cases, staff had contacted me cluing me in ahead of time, telling me what I could or couldn't post because of what advertisers or investors would see, and what changes I had to make to my own behaviour. I recall the atmosphere being a lot like this. Tense. Cold. Office-like. Unfriendly and detached from the community. I was also told that I couldn't share any of that information or I would face punishment.

I've also seen the same from the outside. Tumblr, Blizzard, etc.

While those are one trick ponies, Stack Exchange, Inc. can be thought of as a bit more expansive. It has Jobs and it has Teams. I'd wager that with the new CEO, they want to do the same. Expand, and build more products and services for the tech industry.

That costs money, and repeatedly for decades I've witnessed companies believe that acquisitions, reaching for investors and a more in-depth advertiser program, and product diversification and sales meant the loss of one's soul and warmth to the community that got it there.

Just look at old posts from Stack Overflow, like the infamous HTML Regex answer or funniest code comments post. We're different now. We're in the process of that cold, clinical transformation into the cogs of a machine focused on dollars and the boring inner texts about sales figures from a business textbook. Being bought might be the only thing that could save it.

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    Oddly the apocalyptic note struck by the HTML parsing answer has, to my mind, something of a resonance with recent events on the network... – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 18 at 22:50
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    I also wanted to add that recently, some admins reached out to me telling me that my picture was not site-friendly. It was a photograph of a woman hugging a man, but it was dark, black and white, and all it showed was a man's back. They deleted it. It's been here for years and years and only recently did they decide to do this. It's probably related. – The Anathema Jan 20 at 19:07
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It seems that the simple "it is all about the business" explanation becomes more and more convincing, see the excellent analysis by George Stocker for example.

So, maybe, just maybe, this is all just because a few people want to become really rich over an IPO. You know, having breathtaking ideas, building an outstanding community and creating a high quality Q&A site, that is nice. But selling your startup for hundreds of millions, that is what the cool kids get done.

But alas, that is all speculation.

Yet I suggest we keep enjoying this place as long as it lasts. And of course, out there in the real world, when you notice someone talking about SE Inc. products, you can always chime in and give your viewpoint.

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Is SO/SE About to Be Sold?

Without insider knowledge every answer to this question must remain speculative, but just let me add that the (exponential) growth phase of many exchanges including stackoverflow.com (which peaked in 2014) is over now for some years and it's more or less a stagnating or slowly declining business in numbers of new questions and answers and number of content creators. Number of visitors of the platform may still increase but the quality of recent contributions is rather low, at least on stackoverflow.com which has become a homework question answering site. That is a very worrisome trend if you ask me.

Who would want to buy and invest in such an endeavor? The only kind of growth thing is their "Teams" software/service/thing, which might promise additional customers from the corporate world.

On the other hand, I have heard that the company as such is not profitable, which means they should have an interest in selling or restructuring the service.

Summary: They might be willing to sell but the buyers might only want to buy for a relatively low price. The recent changes might be dressing up for a sell or might just be restructuring of the product in the hope of making it more profitable.

P.S.: Between November 2019 and January 2020 quite a number of staff from the public Q&A team (community managers or data scientists) have left or have been laid off while a new product manager for the "Teams" software has been hired.

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In this podcast (which is not paywalled) Joel said they want to increase revenue -- after which, an IPO.

He sold Trello (perhaps the kind of "sale" you might be thinking of) -- but not Stack Exchange.

See also this answer.

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