136

According to plan, SE Inc. has released a lengthy blog post about "the loop", and their vision of a new "community feedback" system. Or something:

TLDR; We’re going to be sharing our product development process with you, from feedback loops to timelines. We’ll be doing so through our new series – The Loop. You can give us your thoughts on what you’d like to see us do by filling out this survey: Through the Loop. We’ll also be releasing Moderator Training and some new feedback mechanisms to help us form decisions as we grow.

What does the community think?

And in case you want more specific "boundaries" for your answer:

  • Do you see that "the loop" can work and lead us to a "place" that works for "us" community?
  • If so, how does your vision "on top" of "the loop" look like?
  • If not, what are your main objections?

I understand that this question is pretty broad, but honestly: the topic itself is pretty "broad", and I do think: broad discussions are going to happen anyway. So why not "bundle" that stuff in one place. And as soon as more distinct topics arise, those will surely be addressed in distinct questions.

  • 51
    Well, we can all answer the survey with how we are troubled by the way Monica Cellio was treated, as well as by other SE decisions. Maybe they'll listen this time. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Nov 25 '19 at 17:43
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    "We’ll ... create a new working group of users that we’ll lean on for regular feedback" ... "By the end of this year, we will have completed discovery for the working group of users and will have identified the people we would like to recruit.". The user working group is selected by SO employees, not nominated by/voted for by the community. It's also not clear what sort of process there will be for choosing the members of the moderator advisory team, or how much input mods/users will have when a team member is replaced. So... I'm not optimistic. – AJM-Reinstate-Monica Nov 25 '19 at 18:01
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    @AJM-Reinstate-Monica spoiler alert: "advisory group" will be a cherry-picked set of employees most loyal to the king and nobody else, with the subtext that if you're not part of the group it's because we want to sack you in a year. – John Dvorak Nov 25 '19 at 18:06
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    people from all corners of the developer community Stack Overflow and programmers are apparently the only thing that matters even though there are 100+ non-developer communities. Typical. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 25 '19 at 18:39
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    I am completely lost. Look again at the infamous survey question #5 about which racial background(s) you identify with. Doesn't it look a little short? I mean, if you're going for racism, why leave black people out? – Frédéric Hamidi Nov 25 '19 at 19:00
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    It's weird to me that they state that the "current Code of Conduct" was published in 2018 and link back to the 2018 blog post announcement rather than the ACTUAL current CoC announcement which was, what, a month ago? It could be a simple editing mistake, but it needs to be corrected either way. – Giuseppe Nov 25 '19 at 19:24
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    They apparently want to cut us out of the loop. – Luuklag Nov 25 '19 at 19:27
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    Hey All - thanks for the feedback here we're reading through all of it. The demographic questions should not have been mandatory, the survey has been updated. Appreciate you pointing that out. – Sara Chipps Nov 25 '19 at 19:47
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    @SaraChipps Err, I don't care whether it is mandatory or optional. It is plain wrong, doesn't belong in any survey written in 2019. Yet, kudos for showing up here. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 25 '19 at 19:52
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    My last statement for today: given that SE Inc supposedly invested plenty of time and preparation, and actually moved out this announcement a few days ... I am wondering how terrible and bad the initial material must have looked. Un-f....ing-believable. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 25 '19 at 19:55
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    @SaraChipps Interesting that your demographics questions ask about "race", and do not ask about nationality. Do you assume all users are from the US? If you don't want the question to be offensive, and yet want the statistics for some reason, why not ask about nationality/ethnicity, and leave the thing open, rather than multiple choice? – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Nov 25 '19 at 20:15
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    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica This mess is created by sheer incompetence and a childish view of the world, what else can it be? – dfhwze Nov 25 '19 at 20:35
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    This isn't diversity. It's the US interpretation of diversity. Big difference. – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 26 '19 at 0:51
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    @SaraChipps Why does the survey not ask about our religious affiliation? Surely if there's one aspect of people's identity that is likely to cause them to be discriminated, it is religion? Does SE not care about under-represented religious minorities? How could you have missed this opportunity to put us into an additional box? – m69 ''snarky and unwelcoming'' Nov 26 '19 at 2:33
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    In Europe, this kind of race question would be flat-out called for what it is: discriminative. You don't need that information; requiring it (or allowing to optionally put it in) is at best noise in the data, at worst a way to filter behind the scenes. – Sébastien Renauld Nov 26 '19 at 8:03

36 Answers 36

330

The "loop" is bad news. Here's why.

  • No community engagement. On Meta, we get to voice a problem, users propose various solutions and weigh them against each other, maybe we get convinced that what we initially thought was a problem is in fact a desirable, or at least unpleasant-but-necessary feature. We work together as a community to make this platform we use together better. The "loop" turns it into "Dear SE, will you fix this for me?"
  • No transparency. If a complaint is voiced on Meta, we see it. We see how much traction it received. With everything hidden, SE can claim that a change was due to "multiple complaints" or alternatively that a problem "is actually very small", and we have no way of seeing whether that's right.
  • No discussion. Following the above two points, now changes will be landed on us, without us having any opportunity to have any sort of public say in the matter. The King commands, the peasants bow and do what they're told.
  • Race and gender segregation. All our responses to the loop will be grouped by race and gender, for SE to do with this data as they see fit. (Mind you, in my native language, the word for 'race' is one you'd use to talk of dog breeds, and only apply to humans in historic context, e.g. when speaking of Scientific racism. So I find the very question offensive and troubling.)
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    I think most users are of the human race. If there are users from other species then that would definitely be interesting, though it may well be humans trying to pass as animals. – JJ for Popcorn and Monica Nov 25 '19 at 18:13
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    "No community engagement" what? The first of their three focus groups is "Better Mechanisms for Community Feedback". You might want to reword that bolded text. – Em C Nov 25 '19 at 18:16
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    @EmC They've turned what used to be public discussion into some black box where any input that goes in is only seen by those who write it, and may or may not be completely ignored by those running the site – NullUserException อ_อ Nov 25 '19 at 18:18
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    @EmC IIUC, they'll only be collecting feedback from a cherry-picked group of users, with nobody else even being given the technical means to do so. You get one guess as to what group they'll be cherry-picking from in practice. – John Dvorak Nov 25 '19 at 18:19
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    That's not no community feedback, that's "I don't like their proposed mechanisms for community feedback". Hence, you might want to reword the bolded text. – Em C Nov 25 '19 at 18:20
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    @EmC let me spell it out for you: in all certainty, said advisory council is going to be a subset of their employees. If it's not going to be an empty front entirely. Even including some moderators would count as a pleasant surprise. – John Dvorak Nov 25 '19 at 18:23
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    @JohnDvorak oh I'm well aware of what you meant! If you want to say "I don't trust SE to pick a representative subset of users", just say it, don't couch it in statements that aren't true if you read the blog post as written :) – Em C Nov 25 '19 at 18:29
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    @EmC but the answer says "no community engagement", which is completely true – Lamak Nov 25 '19 at 19:42
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    Get with reality - The 'community' has been weighed, measured and found not wanted. Move along now ... – user640380 Nov 25 '19 at 19:47
  • Is market research done more like this new process, or or more like the old "community" process? – Raedwald Nov 25 '19 at 21:57
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    +1 for the race thingie, same in my language, it's very offensive when translated. – CptEric Nov 26 '19 at 11:25
  • @JohnDvorak "You get one guess as to what group they'll be cherry-picking from in practice." The non-hostile group? Btw. I love SO and I'm so super excited to see it growing so much. – Trilarion Nov 26 '19 at 11:39
  • Where does it say responses to "the loop" will be segregated by race and gender? That seems a little... extreme. Not that I don't think such a crazy thing is possible, where I live, the city government tried some weird meeting where they had segregated meetings to talk about racism, and segregated school meetings by all the various popular identity categories. – Steve Sether Nov 26 '19 at 22:13
  • @SteveSether: There are two options: either the data is supposed to be used for evaluating the survey - which makes your point moot - or it's not there for a reason - which would be even worse: "asking people about likes/dislikes is too short, we need to pad this out!" – Piskvor left the building Nov 27 '19 at 14:02
  • @Piskvor There's almost always more than two options to everything. Either way, it seems a huge stretch that suddenly everything is going to be segregated by race/sex by taking one survey question and extrapolating. The problem with this whole story is everyone is massively speculating what "The loop" is, without it having to be applied. "What you do you think about (thing we know little about)." Is just a poor question in general, and seems to invite creating fantastical theories without evidence. – Steve Sether Nov 27 '19 at 15:32
249

The phrase "for reasons they don't understand" is offensive. We do understand why changes out of the blue bothered us, Sara. We listed those changes for you to read. The illegal relicensing, the horrific way you slandered a user to the media, the inappropriate animated advertisements, the abrupt Code Of Conduct changes that didn't take any user input. All of them had reasons listed.

The segregation of data and input by race, gender, and sexuality is offensive.

The idea that we need to be "trained" to deal with those issues when it is them that has to be trained to deal with those issues is offensive. We as a community (users, moderators) are not the ones that led to death threats and data mining of the lavender community. They are.

The condescending wording of the article is about how we're the problem, how we need training resources and a curriculum, how we need to adapt to create a "welcoming community" and how we "don't understand" why the sudden, abrupt changes upset us.

With this in mind, their "hand selecting" individuals is not an idea that I think is useful, as I'm not sure it will be to further specific agendas and to solidify the idea that Stack Exchange is not accountable, or to actually improve site experience.

Instead of hand selecting individuals to confirm their bias for them, they should categorize the issues they think are important, and allow community feedback through a voting process of some sort. Kind of like how Microsoft did User Voice, to be honest.

  • 13
    What if she'd said "For reasons I don't understand, la-la-la, covering my eyes and ears, can't hear you!" ? ... – einpoklum Nov 25 '19 at 23:46
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    Yes, if the real problem is that staff members (and some other users as well) are downvoted on meta because of who they are and not because of what they say, the solution should be to change the software such that voting on meta is only on issues and proposals (dissociated from any particular user), and only after some process with a number of phases (much like moderator elections). It would also be much easier to change the software; people are very, very difficult to change, even if they are initially willing to (it may even backfire). – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 1:14
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    I'm a little confused about the "reasons we don't understand" thing. The blogpost reads: Long-time users can be surprised by things changing out of the blue for reasons they don’t understand, I understand that to mean that things are changing for reasons they don't understand, and that surprises them. It sounds like you are reading it as saying that they don't understand why they are surprised. Am I missing something? – Alex Nov 26 '19 at 2:33
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    I will say that we moderators have been asking for training on many issues for years, this is actually something we really want. At least for some topics specifically. I definitely don't see that part as talking down or being insulting. – Rubiksmoose Nov 26 '19 at 2:42
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica I received a warning from moderators recently for talking bad about staff (and I don't even think I took it as far as you). I know you said you don't care: but just lettin ya know. Half of me wants to write a blog post about how wrong it was, half just wants to say "screw this site, it's not worth my sanity anymore". – mason Nov 26 '19 at 3:02
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica When listening to the podcast between Sara, a white feminist, and Kim, a black feminist, it became apparent Sara felt she, as privileged person over black women, did not do enough to protect this group. I think much of her latest actions and policy changes of the company have been heavily influenced by this conversation. I advise you to listen this through, just to get Sara's situation, whether you agree with identity politics or not (hashtagcauseascene.com/podcast/sara-chipps). – dfhwze Nov 26 '19 at 6:18
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica "This. Sara is one of those people who is so dead set on doing the right thing..." Being dead set on something doesn't have to be a bad thing in general. Sometimes persistence is even seen as a positive trait, depending on the goal probably. But I just wanted to say that singling out a person is the wrong approach here. The CTO backed Sara publicly and the CEO is proud of the new development. She is basically covered and the whole management of the company is in it together. If you want to blame someone, it's better to blame the whole management of the company. – Trilarion Nov 26 '19 at 11:43
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    @Trilarion Oh, I do. I think that's well-documented. & persistence is fine but tunnel-vision is not. – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 26 '19 at 11:54
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    @Alex That doesn't make it any better. It implies that our judgement is somehow faulty because we simply don't understand their reasons. Both ways of interpreting that statement leads to the same conclusion of being condescending and deflecting responsibility. – The Anathema Nov 26 '19 at 16:07
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    A very astute comment has gone missing from here. – faintsignal Nov 27 '19 at 1:40
  • 2
    @Piskvor I noticed those (selective?) variations in voting limits as well. And some 100+ liked comments also disappeared in a couple of recent posts. – dfhwze Nov 28 '19 at 5:36
  • 1
    Aaaand my previous comment is gone, too. – Piskvor left the building Dec 4 '19 at 12:54
179

For me the key takeaways boil down to:

Long-time users can be surprised by things changing out of the blue for reasons they don’t understand, ...

No mentioning of long-time users worry about quality and community spirit, aka working hand in hand, as promised in that previous blog article. A bit of that shows up later, but I had hoped to see it right there, as that would have shown: "you listened".

It’s been inspiring to see people from our Community Management team work hand in hand with folks from Engineering, Sales, and Marketing to come up with solutions for our community’s most pressing concerns.

That's funny. When we do "Design Thinking" in my place (and I kinda consider my company to be a global thought leader here), one of the first things we learn is: without your end users in the process, there is no point in starting. Without regarding the existing community as stakeholders that somehow participate in all such efforts, these efforts are futile.

At least: you understand that you need those people, and think about ways to get their feedback. But obviously: you didn't want them around when you started your activities. Big mistake.

We’re going to create a new system to offer training for our moderators.

About time. But yes: go for it, write down rules and practices. That also include your obligations and commitments towards the moderators! And having a board also can help. How good or bad that will work out very much depends on the subtle implementation details.

Overall: at least a clear vision, presented with the right level of initial details. But that doesn't mean I find it convincing, or especially appealing.

if our users are best served by keeping the function on Meta or if our users are best served by moving the functions to other tools and processes.

My current gut feeling is: if you decide to move the functions to other tools, in other words: in case you close the META(s), I am out. For good.



To separate concerns: when I saw the announcement, and read "the loop", I assumed something like this:

screenshot the loop

I then clicked that link, and ended up with a simply survey, containing:

loop-racist-crap

The only times in my life when I have to answer such a question, that is when writing up a visa for the United States. In any other place, I find such a question to be deeply inappropriate.

We then learned "sorry, the first version of the survey ways broken", which only adds to the impression of SE Inc. not knowing what they are doing. Not regarding "preparation", and this time: also not regarding execution. Seriously: abysmal unprofessional.

The idea:

plan how to move forward on sensitive issues involving race, gender, and sexuality.

to draw whatever conclusions from that.

And there I agree with the answer from Sextus: every time I have to look at such kind of surveys (and I see plenty of them, working in a large US based company) I know exactly that US management goes totally bonkers about such numbers. Metrics, simple numbers, and a fixation on tools, processes, rules, instead of listening to users. Thus I am really disappointed that a young striving company like SE Inc. starts to act more and more like a 100K-employees Behemoth with a higher management level that is decoupled from the needs of employees and users.

And as written: that race part alone got me, and many other folks furious for no reason. Again. SE staff member Yaakov suggests that SE Inc. is reading what happens here. Err, sorry: we repeatedly suggested to you: stop digging the hole you put yourself into. That survey, the survey content, the survey execution was the exact opposite.

And if you had bothered to ask here before doing that we could have told you. Before making another big announcement that added another barrel of fuel to the fire.

And yes, today is Other day.

  • 82
    if you decide to move the functions to other tools, in other words: in case you close the META(s), I am out They will never actually close the Metas officially. Way too messy. They will just leave them there to rot, unread and haunted by the same small group of people who still think SO can somehow become again what it used to be. The time to walk away has long come. – Pekka Nov 25 '19 at 18:32
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    @Pekka Isn't that already happening? – NullUserException อ_อ Nov 25 '19 at 19:02
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    @Ghost, I'm proud to be an Other, since we all are. Let's celebrate Other day tomorrow. – Frédéric Hamidi Nov 25 '19 at 19:16
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    Thank you for mentioning that part of the survey. Not only is it disgusting for the sheer lack of diversity. When did the people of the Iberian become "white"? Seriously, I see this "European race" (Europe is not a race) kind of strong word here in the speeches and arguments of hate groups that come after me – LinkBerest Nov 25 '19 at 19:48
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    Interestingly the ethnic background list has grown significantly in the last half hour. – Alex Nov 25 '19 at 20:24
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    They've updated that question with more choices and a text field, and marked it optional: i.stack.imgur.com/lGbBs.png – LShaver Nov 25 '19 at 20:28
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    Rather than making realtime changes to the survey with every piece of meta feedback that shows they didn't think this survey through, they should take it down, think it through and then activate it again. – dfhwze Nov 25 '19 at 20:30
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    @dfhwze, it's nice they fixed it in the first place (although I wonder who made that blunder and what will happen to them), but that indeed invalidates previous results -- they should cancel and reboot the survey, so to speak. Or maybe it is just for show, who knows? – Frédéric Hamidi Nov 25 '19 at 20:34
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    Sorry about this one folks. The original list of options that was shown on the survey for this question was supposed to have been switched to the updated list before the survey went live. Our bad on that one. And the same for those questions not being optional. Thanks for bringing it to our attention so quickly. – Yaakov Ellis Nov 25 '19 at 21:36
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    But talking with your users using this new Loop thing is still talking with your users, though. Just in a different way from previously. With the potential to be be more systematic? – Raedwald Nov 25 '19 at 22:00
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    "Updated list"? There should never have been this list in the first place. What forward-thinking person would come up with it to begin with?? I get that groups of people sometimes lag behind the modern wisdom, but if you're going to be so condescending about all this stuff then at least get it right yourselves. For goodness's sake. – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 26 '19 at 0:49
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica for better or worse, in the US we get asked about race on practically everything. It's so common they I don't even think about it. It's incredibly interesting to see non US reactions to this. – Rubiksmoose Nov 26 '19 at 2:31
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    @YaakovEllis But how is that really "demographic" data? What do you expect, say a German to answer who lives since 30 years in India? Or a German citizens who's grandfather came from a colony in Africa?! And note: the fact that you got the "first" version so terribly wrong ... taking these things together, sorry: this smells deeply unprofessional. I would accept that from a group of students from some small community college trying to come up with their first survey. You supposedly want to address a global community of experts. Sorry: most epic fail I ever saw here (besides Monicagate). – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 26 '19 at 8:47
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    @Rubiksmoose FWIW here from germany, asking that would likely be illegal or at least seen as unethical and disgusting. I can't imagine a company here doing that, it would be pure PR suicide. People are plenty cautious and sensitive about the last time companies and the government wanted to know people's race. – Magisch Nov 26 '19 at 10:36
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    @Rubiksmoose I was once told by a friend (who is also a well-known US actor) that "the US is a world leading in this process", where "this process" means improved race relations and equal opportunities. He couldn't understand why I was laughing, and then couldn't understand why I was cross when he berated my country for allegedly being fifty years behind his (he got that backwards). Meanwhile, as if to prove my point, he spends most days criticising the state of race relations in the US. Just completely obsessed, y'all, honestly! – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 28 '19 at 23:32
139

I find it disgusting that this survey asks about race, age, and gender, and offers no option for "prefer not to say."

In other words, if you want to submit feedback to Stack Exchange, you MUST tell them your age, gender, and race, or you are not able to give feedback at all. Or, of course, you must lie about your race, age, and gender. Which may bias the interpretation of your answers anyway.


As for the overall shift away from Meta: I might like it better if I still had any trust left for the company.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with using different feedback mechanisms. I just don't trust SE to actually act on our feedback. On Meta, we can at least see how they are responding or failing to respond, and they can't hypocritically pretend they care without the hypocrisy being evident.

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    I used "Other" and stated "None of your concerns" – dfhwze Nov 25 '19 at 19:08
  • 1
    @dfhwze, I did similarly, but there is no such option for age. – Wildcard Nov 25 '19 at 19:09
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    Pick the option that is most likely to get your feedback used. – user400654 Nov 25 '19 at 19:10
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    @dfhwze Oh man, you were polite. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 25 '19 at 19:15
  • 1
    I just took that survey and race, age and gender were optional, so I ignored race and age and replied "This is non of your business" for the gender question, where I could free-form it. – wha7ever Nov 25 '19 at 20:08
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    @wha7ever they changed the survey after feedback here. It wasn't "supposed" to be mandatory – Lamak Nov 25 '19 at 20:11
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    Which adds even more to the impression of utter incompetence. You get your questions perfect before you publish them. Because when you change them during the process, you render all initial answers (more or less) useless. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 25 '19 at 20:25
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    So, we still needed to use meta for feedback... – wha7ever Nov 25 '19 at 20:43
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    The survey as originally launched had these questions as required. This was a mistake. They have been switched to be optional. – Yaakov Ellis Nov 25 '19 at 21:44
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    If the company had been trustworthy, it would not have stopped answering on Meta. – einpoklum Nov 25 '19 at 23:44
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    @YaakovEllis How did such a mistake slip through? I thought SE had been working on this whole thing for a while? Do you have a Quality department? – mason Nov 26 '19 at 3:04
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    @PeterMortensen But that is not how surveys work. What if the abysmal first version of the survey got people to stop taking the survey and turn away and disgust? The problem is that nobody can say how that change to the survey questions affects the results. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 26 '19 at 8:58
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    @YaakovEllis Hint: if you seek honest feedback ... take two days of, and read through the last 2 months of questions and answers here on MSE. You will see more constructive creative ideas about "what to do better" and "what to do stop doing" there as you will find in your anonymous survey with 2-sentences random text snippets. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 26 '19 at 9:00
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    @YaakovEllis If so, you do a really good job of hiding that. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 26 '19 at 9:59
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    @YaakovEllis You (plural) read everything on Meta? How do you avoid the "panic attacks and nightmares"? – user245382 Nov 26 '19 at 21:08
127

It isn't solving the actual problem

The actual problem is that you always mess up and then provide us with a solution which we absolutely hate. You didn't fix the HNQ when sites told you that it's a positive feedback loop for clickbait junk, so the solution was to kick a site off when it blew up on Twitter. You weren't careful with making sure your links to CC by SA were to consistent versions, so you re-licensed everything all of a sudden. You found that the community is generally not very nice to LGBT+ folks, so you kicked out a moderator who supports the non-binary community. And now, you find that meta isn't working great, so you say you want to stop taking the community's opinions and will instead only talk to moderators and read our opinions through check-boxes labelled by your team.

The loop seems like it may succeed in identifying problems to a reasonable extent. But that isn't your biggest issue, since meta does that job just fine. Your issue is coming up with solutions, and now you're trying to say that you won't even let the community try to help you find those.

  • @MonicaCellio A certain not-be-mentioned employee gave a podcast, in which 'being an ally' was singled out as and conceded to be a problem as well. Psychoanalysis (re;reverse: "identify with aggressor'; since it was all power dominant, cultural appropriation) is actually an insightful perspective on this. Screenshot this while it's hot! – LаngLаngС Nov 25 '19 at 19:57
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    @LаngLаngС it's probably a bad word choice. There are allies who are radical extremists, and there are allies who are there as part of normal interactions with other human beings, who are willing to say "that's not cool" to others and generally stand up for folks, and stuff like that. I'm one of the latter, not one of the former. I didn't adopt the term "ally"; it's what my queer friends have called me. Apparently there are other senses of the word; good to know. – Monica Cellio Nov 25 '19 at 20:00
  • You have to leave it to them that they are consistently heading into one direction only. It's not just chance but there seems to be a plan behind it – Trilarion Nov 25 '19 at 22:36
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    I just think about my UAT at work. I get either nitpickers noticing 0.01rem line height differences, which I really don't mind, or I get the "pass" folks who I am pretty sure didn't really test. What you don't get often, or at all, is a big group of passionate people that understand software deeply and can give expert feedback. I would kill for this kind of feedback on a product. It's painful to watch the company pull back from this. – Chris Nov 26 '19 at 5:35
120

If The Loop is supposed to give any meaningful feedback to the Company, we are doomed.

It is 5 minute survey about Stack Overflow (other communities... who cares... apparently SE does not)

Besides, usual demographic (age, gender, years in programming) there are two free style edits: what do you like and what you don't like about SO.

Seriously, how will anyone gather and analyze any kind of feedback from that... I have no idea.

Real feedback would be listing all planned changes and asking us what we think about them. It seems that seeking community feedback is just pretense and The Loop is not even trying to hide that.

  • 36
    I started to answer the survey. I stopped short of submitting it when I realized that after the demographic questions, the next button was "done". – hazzey Nov 25 '19 at 19:00
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    And let's not forget that this surveymonkey survey, which is merely a "what you like" box, a "what you don't like" box and then a series of demographic questions so bad they had invalidate the results changing the questions after launch because they literally forgot black people exist (!!!), is what they came up with after delaying launch by a week because it "needed some refinement"! What was the unrefined version like?! – user56reinstatemonica8 Nov 25 '19 at 20:52
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    I can't comprehend how they could possibly have forgotten to include black people, especially after that emotional podcast with Kim Crayton about the marginalization of black women in particular. – dfhwze Nov 25 '19 at 20:56
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    @dfhwze Wow, I just realized that. That is horrible omission. I myself didn't pay too much attention... brain cloud... so I just stopped at first checkbox which applies to me and I didn't read further. – Resistance Is Futile Nov 25 '19 at 21:31
  • 2
    Who is this "us" you are expecting them to ask? The tiny number of MSE regulars? I recognize your avatar, perhaps you recognize mine. That shows just what a tiny group we constitute. A more systematic approach, which sadly means cutting out us MSE regulars, could be better. – Raedwald Nov 25 '19 at 22:04
  • 5
    @Raedwald Problem is that wast majority of other users don't care. Those 100K new users SO has each month. They just want their answers. Or some just want fake Internet points. Only tiny percentage of those will turn out to be contributing members that will post valuable content. Yes, Meta(s) users only are not fully representative, so surveys do have their place, but then when you have results you take them to the Meta(s) you pinpoint issues and you try to find solutions together with most active users. Ones that keep the sites clean. – Resistance Is Futile Nov 25 '19 at 22:16
  • 13
    Saying that Meta only has fraction of users and then replacing that input with 1:1 interviews, surveys which will ask wrong questions or focus on irrelevant issues and contextual research that will pull information out of thin air will solve that problem how exactly? – Resistance Is Futile Nov 25 '19 at 22:18
  • 2
    @Raedwald I am sorry if I sound a bit offensive... I am in a bad mood right now... your questions are valid and I actually agree that Meta is not good representative of complete community. My main problem is not in desire "to widen the input from community" but the fact that after all what has happened it is just a smoke screen. The desire for communication is a big fat lie, that blog post is full of empty phrases and.... I don't know.... I am nor really coherent at the moment... – Resistance Is Futile Nov 25 '19 at 22:28
  • 2
    More and more these days I think that we are doomed and that's not just because of SE. – Trilarion Nov 25 '19 at 22:31
  • 4
    So, writing as a social scientist (I was trained as a computational social scientist) there is a lot that I can do with qualitative survey information, but it is very time consuming since you need to read and code all of the free form responses. The results of that process can then be used to develop a new survey instrument targeting specific research questions or a different sample frame (i.e., group of people). – anonymous Nov 25 '19 at 22:35
  • 1
    @Trilarion That is what worries me the most. Everything is falling apart left and right... – Resistance Is Futile Nov 25 '19 at 22:47
  • 2
    @ResistanceIsFutile Pretty much. If SO employed a trained social scientist (they have data scientist and people with PhDs in other fields, not the same sort of training or background) I'd trust them a bit more with some of their surveys. – anonymous Nov 25 '19 at 22:48
  • 4
    What I don't like about SO? It's corporate management. – einpoklum Nov 25 '19 at 23:45
  • 5
    I wouldn't discount the free form fields. They need not be processed in a statistical manner. The best responses will probably highly influence the decision making. Such qualitative feedback is often of much higher value than the quantitative part and often valued as such. They can be highly influential, and you should use the chance you have now. You can sow a seed now that will later save the whole thing. Your words may cause she who shall not be named wake up one month from now in the middle of night and exclaim "Ah, that is what they meant. I get it." – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 0:58
  • 1
    @ResistanceIsFutile I couldn't agree with you more. SE has made it clear to focus on welcoming new users at the expense of the many volunteers that invest their time, expertise and effort to answer/edit questions. The fact many users just create a one-shot account to ask a question for something they immediately need solved, regardless whether the question has been asked before and unwilling to browsing the help center to adhere to a minimum of quality requirements for asking a question, just doesn't seem to matter. – dfhwze Nov 26 '19 at 6:38
109

Some backchannel diplomacy isn't going to work here, even if it's well meaning. We need active dialogue that's open to the community. It lacks what I've said before and will say again:

Without discussion, there can be no trust.

There needs to be discussion in the open, for everyone to see and partake in.

  • 24
    Oh don't worry, they promised that they will have chosen representatives to partake in the discussion on your behalf by the end of the year. – manveti Nov 25 '19 at 18:58
  • 9
    They don't want our trust. They've apparently decided to circumvent the more active users and stick to shepherding the rest of the users. – einpoklum Nov 25 '19 at 23:48
94

That's not why I elected those moderators

I don't like you giving moderators the updates and asking only the moderators for feedback. I trust my site's moderators with handling flags and keeping discussions and the average undeleted posts' quality up to date. I did not elect them for their role in analyzing and suggesting new features. I want to be part of that. I have ideas. I can see problems in other peoples' ideas. I want to express my opinion about how the community is run, and the moderators I elected were not chosen for proving that they make good feature requests.

  • 16
    They didn't really say anything about the moderators making the core feedback group, though. They will be users hand-selected by...magic or whatever. But I doubt there will be a lot of moderators among them. – Chris says Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 19:47
  • 3
    I think the Answer is referring to comments last week about the "new feedback mechanism" was discussed in Teacher's Lounge (that is, to Moderators Only), and we non-mods were told to just wait until it was Passed Down. – April Salutes Monica C. Nov 25 '19 at 20:56
  • 3
    This is a very important point. If not everyone of the community can be part of improving SE than it's not worth doing it. I don't do all this because of the company. – Trilarion Nov 25 '19 at 22:33
83

Meta is a flawed site in many ways. But it does allow for more complex and elaborate discussions and feedback.

The feedback mechanisms I see in the blog post seem to boil down everything into something that fits into a single-line textfield. That doesn't seem all that useful except to get a high-level overview. The mechanisms that allow more feedback than a handful of words are all closed mechanisms like interviews. And even that limits the complexity of the feedback to something you can argue on the spot.

Moving all feedback to channels that can't handle even small amounts of complexity feels like a big step backwards to me.

  • 36
    US style management, probably learned at Harvard BS. I am working for a large (US based) global player ... and I am used to these kind of nonsense surveys. I am wondering right now whether SE Inc. thinks that by adopting the BS practices that such large enterprise companies used for decades ... they get to "bark with the big dogs". – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 25 '19 at 19:34
  • 2
    I don't think the survey is useless. There are two free-form fields and space for at least 1200 characters, to provide qualitative feedback. Instead of providing 1-2 bit of information in the form of an upvote or downvote ("I am mad at the company, and therefore I downvote"), there is the chance to get your voice heard. – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 1:25
  • 5
    I am a machine learning tool and I classified your answer as being frustrated about a barrier to participation. Unfortunately I missed all the other context. – Trilarion Nov 26 '19 at 11:03
  • 1
    @Trilarion Ironically that's the only sort of feedback SE wants – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 26 '19 at 15:33
81

Just a few random thoughts.

We have [..] north of 100k new users signing up to the public Q&A each month (coders are everywhere!)

Indeed they are. So, perhaps using the term "north" to mean "increasing value" is not very welcoming. Are users from the southern hemisphere less valuable? Let's use a term other than "north" to mean "good", because that's a very Americentric/Eurocentric idiom.

For a community, debt can take many forms: Long-time users can be surprised by things changing out of the blue for reasons they don’t understand,

Let's try to avoid categorising viewpoints from your long-term community members (read: the people who created your monetisable content) as people who "don't understand". Just because somebody doesn't agree with you, doesn't mean that they "don't understand". That's important to, well, understand.

we have come to the realization that we need to do more in order to sustain, serve and support a much larger community and keep it growing and thriving.

Yes I think that this is a good point.

We want to address all these things and be transparent about how we’re paying down some of this community debt.

Cool! Paying down debt is awesome.

A month ago we formed cross-functional teams of Stackers (employees of Stack Overflow)

Ah, my bad; I thought "Stacker" was a term meaning a user of Stack Overflow. I stand corrected.

It’s been inspiring to see people from our Community Management team work hand in hand with folks from Engineering, Sales, and Marketing to come up with solutions for our community’s most pressing concerns.

Genuinely, those people are great and they have done and continue to do a fantastic job!

Over the 10 years that Stack Overflow has been around, the way that we collect user feedback has changed significantly. [..] This shift happened quietly, and many Meta users felt understandably concerned that we weren’t listening to users or making data-driven product decisions.

Yes, you are correct. This came from direct statements that you would not be doing that any more here. That was directly communicated, thank you.

We’ll share regular updates about what we learn through our research, as well as create a new working group of users that we’ll lean on for regular feedback. This working group will be made up of a diverse group of folks excited to see Stack Overflow grow.

I am glad that it'll be diverse and exciting.

Overall, both anonymous and registered users are highly satisfied with Stack Overflow and tell us that their favorite things about our community include finding solutions to their problems, vast access to information, and the knowledgeable people who participate.

I thought everybody hated it, because of the long-term contributors being rude and racist?

I'm glad they've enjoyed the fruits of our freely-provided labour, though. We put a lot into that!

With our new mixed method research approach, one thing we lost was regular, in-depth conversation with a group of folks highly invested in Stack Overflow’s growth.

Yes, you opted out of that.

We also wanted to keep seeking out feedback from a broad range of perspectives.

No, you removed (or otherwise made feel unwelcome) the people whose perspectives you did not like.

We’ll hand-select folks of diverse backgrounds who are excited to chat with us regularly about everything from new ideas to features, to how we communicate with the broader Stack Overflow community.

I am once again glad that diversity and excitement is going to be involved.

We’re looking forward to hearing from representatives from different types of users and backgrounds starting in 2020 and regularly thereafter.

Cool! Will you be responding to that feedback?

But wait, there’s more! Moderating communities is a skill, and one that’s too often poorly documented, poorly understood, and pursued without robust best practices.

Again, lambasting your selfless volunteers as lacking understanding is probably not the best way to begin a moderation council, but let's work with it...

We’re going to create a new system to offer training for our moderators.

Training, or indoctrination?

The training will be a great way for new moderators to learn the ropes, and will be available to all moderators seeking help as they struggle to make important decisions, learn the tools available to them, and plan how to move forward on sensitive issues involving race, gender, and sexuality.

Alright, that answers that.

As an aside, I actually think it's the directorship that needs a lesson in handling these things with due care and sensitivity, but whatever.

When conversations about Stack Overflow started to happen on Stack Overflow, our founders invented a site called Meta. Meta Stack Overflow was created as a way to talk about the website without distracting us from the important things: questions about programming. Since then, it’s become almost a catch-all for everything: bug reports, general complaints, feature requests, and ideas about the site. With thousands of accumulated bug reports and feature requests, it’s a lot of community debt.

It actually isn't the debt at all. It's a sign of the debt. It's a signal.

Don't shoot the messenger, folks.

You can't fix the deficit by defaulting on your debt then letting it rack up again. But whatever.

It’s hard to capture structured feedback on Meta. There are now so many conversations that we aren’t often able to participate.

Again, you opted out. You literally said that you were going to do that.

On Meta, there are discussions, some that go on for a long time without a clear answer.

Like when you illegally relabelled the licence agreement on all our content, then ignored all attempts to communicate with you about it? Yes, I agree.

Meta tends to exclude people that aren’t super immersed in the Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange culture.

Everybody has access and is welcome. Literally all you have to do is click on a link.

Meta requests don’t integrate with any existing ticketing system, so our Community Managers need to prioritize the best they can and answer the threads deemed most important at the time.

That's true — a proper issue tracking system would be much better, and I applaud the engineering team for handling Meta-posted bug reports as best they can.

We analyzed data on how Meta is being used, who is using it, and all the functions that Meta serves. [..] We looked at the three data points—how Meta is being used, who is using Meta, and the functions—and determined if our users are best served by keeping the function on Meta or if our users are best served by moving the functions to other tools and processes.

Okay, this is starting to sound like "let's get rid of the community's most prominent individuals because they have been critical of us; how can we make a new meta-community that excludes them". But, unlike the company, I still assume good faith so let's continue...

We plan to transition things like bug reports, user and customer support, user feedback, and company announcements off of Meta over the course of next year.

I love this. A+++ would non-Meta again.

In machine learning, there is a concept called “Human in the Loop.” Some processes can’t just be done by machine alone; instead, a human adds value to the feedback loop.

Yes, we've been doing that for free for over a decade, to generate company revenue. You're welcome!

Through your help and feedback, we’ll have the best opportunity to build a better future together.

Hope so!

We’re compiling a small diverse group, including new users, power users, and moderators, to be a constant partner for feedback by Q1 2020.

Good, glad you're taking genitals and skin colour into account because that's an important factor when it comes to people's ability to form ideas.

This is our initial step, your voice matters here, and we want to hear it.

We have spoken many times. Please respond to the thread about licensing.

We want to work with you to move past focusing on what’s wrong in order to strengthen the things that are right and build the future we want together.

Yes, we want to move past what's wrong as well.

The way to do that is: fix what you did wrong.

This plea to completely ignore all the ways in which you have done serious, significant and flagrant harm not just to groups of people but also to individuals, cannot simply be swept under the carpet because you say you want it to be.

You need to take the first steps, and I appreciate the nice words and pleasing promises in this blog post, but until you actually resolve the problems that you've created, it's all meaningless.

We know that during times of change, communication is important; you’ll be hearing from us the entire way.

Thank you; as such, I look forward to communication regarding the extremely serious issues that have so far not received an acceptable level of interaction from the company.

Let's get this ball rolling and move into 2020 with a renewed sense of co-operation!

Over to you!


tl;dr ignoring everything, making a system to get rid of us, then asking to move on from "the past" is offensive when you haven't fixed what you did wrong.

  • 14
    What i read from "We’ll hand-select folks of diverse backgrounds" is "We'll hand-select a group of people of an equal-ish ratio between experience, race, gender, age, etc, one that importantly doesn't represent the community's ratios" – user400654 Nov 26 '19 at 0:55
  • 39
    @KevinB That's right, because apparently it's very important what colour skin you have or what gender you are, in terms of being able to form an opinion or make feedback or contribute. Oh, wait... that's literally racism and sexism! Dammit... – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 26 '19 at 0:57
  • In terms of being able to form an opinion, things like skin color and gender aren't important. In terms of the opinions you actually do form, yes, they do seem to be important. They can form the basis for communities, and different communities foster different ideas. – Matt Gutting Nov 26 '19 at 3:05
  • 1
    I like this (Usenet-style) answer very much. The subtle sarcasm is nearly as good as TechLead's (though there is only one ex-Google ex-Facebook TechLead). – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 5:55
  • 2
    This is a different meaning of democracy where instead of people of the community being voted in to represent them, people are handpicked using diversity quota to have a demographic representation of all kinds of identity groups. The reason I don't like this is because it focuses on the wrong traits and portrays a moral high ground pushed on others. – dfhwze Nov 26 '19 at 6:25
  • 2
    Thanks for the much needed laugh. – Eric Duminil Nov 26 '19 at 21:12
  • "The way to do that is: fix what you did wrong." Exactly. How the article says it, is like trying to put a plaster on a wound that's infected because they refuse to clean it. – laur34 Nov 30 '19 at 15:05
  • 4
    @laur34-protesting It's like an abusive partner begging you not to leave them, because they mean well and they want you to ignore what they've done. Even though they'll do it again, and practically did it while asking you. Why are the virtue signallers so often the ones without virtue? – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 30 '19 at 15:26
  • Catija explained that Sara Chipps used “Stacker”in the first blog without understanding of the meaning. Using “Stacker” with clarification (employees of Stack Overflow) shows that now Sara knows the meaning of the word. – MiFreidgeim SO-stop being evil Dec 10 '19 at 8:08
  • @MiFreidgeim: Oooooor that they're just making it up as they go along and can't make up their minds! ;) The meaning of words is defined by what people mean when they use them. All that aside, thanks for the link it explains a lot :) – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Dec 10 '19 at 11:09
  • Great read. You captured the irrationality involved in making those decisions into a single sentence. And it made me laugh quite a bit :D – Fermi paradox Dec 21 '19 at 12:02
76

This is kinda difficult to write. I know there's good folks out there who I actually think believe in meta and the community - and yet, this didn't seem a priority.

It is rather ironic that the new initiative is called "the loop' when for a good chunk of the past year, at least some folks, both in the community and outside it were struggling to break the negative feedback loop between folks in SE and the community.

I've been here a while. I've possibly been active longer than some of your employees. (Though not so long that it was just when you didn’t need moderators, as you had Joel, Jeff, Jarrod, and Geoff, or even Rebecca and Dori and I cannot remember the other one). And yes, SO had three whole CMs at one point. And yes, I once had an argument with Jeff... and kinda had a stalemate. And well, this is kinda what real community is

I do remember though, when folks actually talked. Not at. To. Actual folks (and there's a few folks I feel are genuine and lovely and I trust). It feels like SO has taken to the idea that communicating to people is too hard and would like to stick to nice, neat things like focus groups and surveys. Sometimes, in this mess there's a few hard, but useful truths.

Community is people.

The risk with any one source, meta or survey, or even starting with an idea of how either of it is is sometimes we fit the data to try to fit our views. There's a lot of folks who want SE to not just survive, but thrive, and... they're tired.

Do y'all remember you used to use UserVoice? And it sucked. Meta was better... and that's getting replaced by... SurveyMonkey?

I wonder if I've been tilting at windmills - reminding folks that we could be better, and trying to help deal with at least the worst of what was going on here over the past few months.

I've read through the blog-post and I look around. I see many of our most active mods demoralised. There's a site with a single moderator or less. I'm not entirely sure what our moderator community will look like in 2020, a little over a month from now, or what it will look like. I took this role in an instant, came back because I had faith in meta as a resource - and, quite honestly, hoped we'd get the help and good news we needed to get it back on track. Doesn't feel like this was it.

Many of the older CMs have probably heard of me complaining that the company didn't seem to care about the smaller sites. As a SU moderator - admittedly a pretty drama free site, we've run with a huge amount of autonomy. Reading through the blog post, as someone who isn't a developer, I guess I'm excluded again from the next stage of SO's growth.

I'm not sure what meta means to the company any more.

Or the diverse communities that make up the broader stack exchange network - I had a little faith - stuff was looking up, we had a few folks I felt got it - but clearly too few.

Practically, this was not the investment in the community and goodwill I was hoping for.

  • No mods. There's sites that had no active mods and it's a very real possibility – Journeyman Geek Nov 30 '19 at 1:11
65

The loop is anti-transparent.

For a system that considers itself community-moderated, this is a giant step in the direction of removing community discussion on moderation and policy decisions over the whole SE network.

They may as well make the diamond moderators paid positions. I suspect this is the way things will go in the not-too-distant future, anyway, as if you kill the community feel, there will be little reason to volunteer time.

Edit So, after trying "the loop", I'm quite underwhelmed. First, after completing the survey, I can't take it again to make more points. They only want to hear from me ONCE, apparently.

Many of the questions were of the "nonyabusiness" category, and I answered as such.

There is NO WAY that this can be considered a Meta substitute. It solicits info on what the staff wants to hear, not on what the staff doesn't want to hear.

I think this is a HUGE step in the wrong direction. Meta has served the community very well. Essentially, Meta is the person that brought SE to the dance, and they should leave with that person. It's brought the platform to a tremendous level. If the feeling is that Meta hasn't scaled to the platform, the answer isn't to taper off Meta, it's to add mechanisms to get the feedback needed.

I've never been a particularly big meta contributor, but there have been periods of time where I've interacted, and periods of time where I just read. Until recently, all of the interactions I've seen with staff have been respectful. There isn't always agreement, but there has always been an acknowledgement that opinions come from someplace.

Lately, I've felt active disdain from staff for users. I've never perceived that before.

  • 2
    Na. They need to make that a "paid position". After being given money, I'd be quite comfy to say "just following orders…", no matter how… SE: hire me, –– and pay! I don't mind. I was the advocate of the devil, himself, quite a few times. – LаngLаngС Nov 25 '19 at 20:54
  • 1
    But the survey is better than meta. They have written off meta a long time ago and are not (really) reading meta. At least you have a chance to be heard. – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 5:37
63

It sounds to me like a thinly veiled attempt to shut down opposition to corporate interests.

Have a problem? Concerned about SE as a corporation? Meh, here's a private survey. If meta still exists, which is a huge "if", then I have a hunch any type of community issues will be flagged as off-topic, closed or removed. From Sara stating in the past that employees have panic attacks when posting to meta, to the Monica debacle, to licensing issues, these public conversations will no longer be able to exist.

Moderator training = you must do as we say. Feedback loops = no public discourse.

It sounds like SE doesn't care about the community. On one hand, I kinda get it - they're a business that needs to make money. On the other hand, I don't see how removing public discourse will foster a better environment.

  • 8
    I mean, i'm sure it'l be a "better environment" for someone – user400654 Nov 25 '19 at 20:04
62

Software developers often talk about technical debt, the little bugs and shortcuts that you don’t have time to fix, and which over time, can slow, hamper, or completely cripple the system in which they reside. Just like a system can accrue technical debt, as a 10-year-old company, we have accrued community debt.

It appears that Stack Exchange thinks human relationships are like neglected, crappy code that can be fixed whenever you get around to it.

"Hey Valued Users, sure we've insulted you and abused your trust but we promise we'll put fixing the problem with your feelings annoying us into sprints 43-46 next quarter. Also, please self-identify your demographics so we know exactly how valuable you are and can prioritize your concerns appropriately."

Someone seems to have forgotten that they're talking about people, not page views or bug-ridden software.

  • 22
    This is pretty much consistent to "shipping on Friday" analogy. It is beyond rude and offensive. Developers do have some weird jokes, but even for developers this is not even remotely amusing. – Resistance Is Futile Nov 26 '19 at 13:19
  • 4
    Also doesn't look to me like the "accrued community debt" is that old, and that the obvious solution to "community debt" is to actually listen to community feedback (which is really easy to do on Meta) and tackle the problems that the community is talking about. But instead, they're adding more to the debt by not treating this issue seriously... – Kyle Fairns Nov 28 '19 at 13:07
51

The SO blog page Introducing “The Loop”: A Foundation in Listening states:

A month ago we formed cross-functional teams of Stackers (employees of Stack Overflow) to create strategies to start addressing some of these concerns. It’s been inspiring to see people from our Community Management team work hand in hand with folks from Engineering, Sales, and Marketing to come up with solutions for our community’s most pressing concerns. We’ve worked together to build new communication frameworks that take into account how we’ve scaled and to replace old frameworks that don’t work now that we’re larger.

The themes these groups took on are:

  • Better mechanisms for community feedback
  • Building a moderator advisory group
  • How we communicate and interact with Meta sites moving forward

I find it troubling that the company seems to be taking only a top-down approach to "come up with solutions for our community's most pressing concerns". The blog page says they've worked with different groups within the company, but it doesn't give any indication (and I've not seen any particular evidence either) that they've even asked, much less tried to work with, members of the "community", e.g., most of the people reading this or other more particularly involved members, about what "we" consider to be our biggest problems, as well as how any of their (or, especially, any of our) suggestions about how the company can best solve "our" problems will address these issues.

Another example of their top-down approach is regarding their proposed feedback mechanisms, where the blog page states:

That’s why we’re creating a working group of users made up of people from all corners of the developer community — from folks new to programming, those who don’t participate in Stack Overflow but are passionate about programming, experienced Stack Overflow users, frequent contributors, and more. We’ll hand-select folks of diverse backgrounds who are excited to chat with us regularly about everything from new ideas to features, to how we communicate with the broader Stack Overflow community.

I added the emphasis on "hand-select". Instead of perhaps having an election or some other community-based selection method for determining who "we" believe can best represent & communicate our needs to the company, they will instead choose whoever they want to. No indication is given of what criteria they will use to decide this. Although they may often make good choices, I believe they will likely not choose anybody who decides to question what they're doing too much. An excellent recent example is a certain former moderator who, based on the best information I was able to find, was "fired" just a few months ago for doing this.

Nonetheless, being an optimist, I hope that what they implement will help improve the situation for us, or at least not make things too much worse. Also, where any particular changes are generally detrimental, I hope they will realize this quickly (e.g., through their various surveys or feedback from their "hand-selected" group) and then try to improve the situation. Although what the company wants compared to the diverse (including even sometimes rather contradictory) needs & goals of the "community", especially the generally most active members such as those on this meta site, don't always coincide, I like to believe the company will at least give reasonable consideration to what we're asking to be done, or not be done, before they make their decisions, and then change them afterwards if need be.

  • 25
    Still trying to figure out how they want to gauge passion or a diverse background from sifting through SO profiles (the only means I can imgagine them selecting candidates). – Chris says Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 18:26
  • 5
    Or group results by gender and race from anonymous user profiles for that matter. – dfhwze Nov 25 '19 at 18:28
  • 13
    If they wanted meaningful feedback, they wouldn't "hand-select" the working group. They'd draw names out of a hat until they had enough people who agreed to join the group. – Mark Nov 25 '19 at 20:33
  • 5
    @Mark That's the kind of suggestion that they would have benefited from if they had bothered to seek input from the community, instead of just dictating to it. But apparently, we aren't worth listening to. – user245382 Nov 25 '19 at 21:42
46

The Community Is Dead...

This change makes me feel more and more like the community is being pushed out of the loop.

As others have already quoted:

We’re compiling a small diverse group, including new users, power users, and moderators, to be a constant partner for feedback by Q1 2020.

By this, it feels likely that those who are unwilling to share their gender, race or age with you will not be considered for the role, and that (taking into account recent actions of yours) those who have opposing points of view may be at risk of not being accepted either.

You're shrinking your own feedback loop in an effort to understand our feedback in a more concise manner, but that's what voting on meta is for. That's what your existing moderators are for. You have built a feedback machine, and you're abusing it.

You should not be compiling the group, the community should be (in a moderator election styled event), so that they can vote on the members who have the ideas that resonate the most with them.

We're retracting because what we have here is a democracy. Everyone has an equal voice. Everyone has the chance to vote. Everyone has the potential to create real change. Everyone can make a post and make their feedback known, and those in charge (you, The Company) need to take into account those votes and pieces of feedback, and use that information to enact the change that the community needs.

To fix the community, you need to address the problems that we are voting most about. Things like the re-licensing, the moderator firing and subsequent resignations and the community's outcry for more communication from the company in a genuine feedback loop, perhaps by using your own, pre-existing meta.

So what do you say?

Long Live The Community?

We plan to transition things like bug reports, user and customer support, user feedback, and company announcements off of Meta over the course of next year.

If this plan goes ahead, I fear you will lose your community, I feel these changes will create an environment where moderators may as well be employed by you. Some people may be passionate enough to contribute, but behind the scenes (in the land of Meta-believe) when the communication between other members of the community has died off, the decay will creep into the other sites, and there won't be a reason for the majority of long-standing users to contribute.

That is, unless you allow us to continue to view others issues and allow us to show our response to your announcements using upvotes (or similar) paired with a publicly written feedback loop involving the community wherein we can remain megaphones for the issues that we (as content creators for the site) find most pressing.

  • 1
    That option is on the survey. Did they just add it? – user102937 Nov 26 '19 at 2:58
  • 2
    @RobertHarvey, I'm referring to the screenshot of another answer on this question by Ghostcat Says Reinstate Monica, which has the screenshot of the issue there – Kyle Fairns Nov 26 '19 at 3:00
  • 2
    Re "here is a democracy.": No, dissenting voices and/or those that are not in the ingroup are (effectively) voted out (or silenced) and publicly shamed. That is not a real democracy. Meta becomes insular that way. – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 6:09
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey That survey got updated (one or more times) after swift user feedback about missing options (for users to opt out of stating their age/gender/race) and adding additional ethnic groups. – dfhwze Nov 26 '19 at 6:11
  • 2
    @PeterMortensen, look to the UK and you see dissenting voices from both sides being voted out and publicly shamed. Look to the US and you see a similar situation. This is what democratic systems seem to have become. The issue is that some users will resort to personal attacks rather than the constructive criticism of ideas - but that's where the moderators and staff can jump in. One of their roles is to keep the discussion on topic, and that would involve helping the community shift back onto topic whenever the conversation starts drifting away from that debate of ideas – Kyle Fairns Nov 26 '19 at 10:12
  • I do think transitioning user/customer support and arguably bug reports off of meta is a good thing. User support requests are often harshly received by a community that has dealt with similar things for years, so letting SE handle them probably helps the site be less harsh. Bug tracking on meta is a pain without any integration into their dev system. Hard to know if they saw the bug, are working on the bug, de-prioritized it, fixed it, whatever. A public bug tracker would help. The last two - user feedback and company announcements - are the ones where I think moving off meta will be bad. – Troyen Dec 11 '19 at 2:20
45

We know that during times of change, communication is important; you’ll be hearing from us the entire way.

So... starting now? This seems to be a large effort to hit a "reset" button and make the last month of Meta disappear.

  • 34
    "Month"? You're cute. ;-) – Chris says Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 18:43
  • 4
    @ChrissaysReinstateMonica I was trying to be a little generous. – SmrtGrunt quit because Monica Nov 25 '19 at 18:44
  • 37
    You know... it's interesting that, because communication is so important, they're doing away with a feedback method that allows for communication and replacing it with a slotted blackbox that whirs gently each time you submit a feedback. – John Dvorak Nov 25 '19 at 18:45
  • 1
    Is free firm text feedback practical at scale? They are claiming it is not. To make them change their mind, you would have to prove it can be made practical. The mess that is MSE suggests they are right. – Raedwald Nov 25 '19 at 22:10
  • @Raedwald The survey is entirely free form text. – Stop Harming the Community Nov 25 '19 at 23:03
  • 1
    Freeform text from a small number of selected users is surely more practical than from an enormous group. – Raedwald Nov 25 '19 at 23:06
  • @Raedwald The survey is linked to from the blog post, so it's not selected users that are answering. – Stop Harming the Community Nov 25 '19 at 23:24
  • 1
    @Raedwald dictating the desired narrative to a few interns and having them write something up is even easier. No surprises. I know people who used to have their doctors do that. Works well till the disease catches up and you have to explain unscheduled hospital visits. – JJ for Popcorn and Monica Nov 25 '19 at 23:24
  • 2
    No, not starting now. You won't hear them answering the questions they need to. It'll only be communiques. – einpoklum Nov 25 '19 at 23:50
  • 3
    To be fair, there is a survey up. And with free form text fields with space for at least 581 characters. There is the chance to directly influence decisions makers. Make it count. – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 0:40
  • 1
    @PeterMortensen "directly" might be overstating things a tad - those free form text fields are going to be fed through a coding algorithm to convert them to generic versions and then fed to the Data Team who will use them to produce overall trend information and those trends are what will influence decision makers. – motosubatsu Nov 26 '19 at 16:41
41

There are already many great answers so I won't repeat what's already been said.

I am all for inclusivity, but the Through the loop survey makes me feel excluded.


"8. How many years have you been coding (including formal education, self-taught experience, bootcamps, MOOCs, etc.)?"

And really, after taking another look, all the questions are worded "Stack Overflow". My last activity there was 4 years ago. I can't and shouldn't be answering what I like/dislike about SO because my experience of it is incredibly dated. So... what am I supposed to answer? Are my answers going to be considered if I specify that I'm answering the question with my little corner of Stack Exchange in mind?


I did find out about the Stack Exchange communities because I had questions about code, but these questions are a minor reason of the reason why I'm here. I've asked questions about all sorts of topics here and always found great people to help me. By focusing on users' coding experience, you run the risk of alienating many other great communities hosted on Stack Exchange.

Please lead by example and be inclusive of all of your communities.

  • 3
    Without the developer community propping up the network, the other communities wouldn't exist here. – user400654 Nov 25 '19 at 20:29
  • 8
    @KevinB That's no reason to exclude the other communities. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Nov 25 '19 at 20:31
  • 6
    @KevinB Of course, it brings a lot of traffic to other communities. But I don't believe for one second that only developers are answering my questions about biology, cooking, stats, graphic design, writing... – curious Nov 25 '19 at 20:31
  • You're not being excluded. It's an open ended question. Answer 0 if the answer is 0. – user400654 Nov 25 '19 at 20:33
  • 4
    @KevinB My point is it's an irrelevant question. Where is the question about how much time I've invested in communities here? (Maybe it's in the next pages, I don't know because I stopped answering there). – curious Nov 25 '19 at 20:37
  • It is relevant, to the majority of people who will be taking the survey. – user400654 Nov 25 '19 at 20:39
  • @KevinB Sure, I don't disagree there. How is that inclusive? – curious Nov 25 '19 at 20:40
  • 1
    It's no more or less inclusive than any of the other questions. Why does that matter? – user400654 Nov 25 '19 at 20:41
  • 2
    It was the last question. So I referred back to my 4th grade LOGO class, so my opinion would matter. – April Salutes Monica C. Nov 25 '19 at 20:54
  • 4
    Don't forget that a large proportion of SE staff don't even know the SE network exists. – curiousdannii Nov 25 '19 at 23:36
  • @curiousdannii I seem to recall reading that somewhere but can't remember where. It's so baffling to me that they wouldn't know that there's something else outside of SO. – curious Nov 26 '19 at 3:06
  • 1
    It is probably because the tension with beginners on Stack Overflow (at odds with the original objective of a (non-redundant) high-quality knowledge repository) is considered the major problem (e.g. at the root of the first Twitter incident). – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 5:27
  • As I understand it, StackOverflow pays most of the bills, and only a few other sites achieve financial break-even. – MSalters - reinstate Monica Nov 29 '19 at 23:09
41

Yes, this is a sock account. I've deleted my previous account but could not resist answering this.

"You", unless otherwise specified, refers to Stack Exchange, not the asker of the question.

When I saw "feedback mechanisms", the first thing that came to mind was a much needed improvement to the way new users get feedback. Especially when announced alongside changes such as the vote value change and the post notice update, that's not too unreasonable. Is it?

Apparently, it is. I'm not the only person to suspect that this means the end of meta as we know it. To a certain degree, that would've been fine. Meta has not scaled well at all. SE has complained about low participation on meta, but how is this supposed to improve anything? You're not just removing the ability to participate, you're weighting it by gender, race, and age. One fantastic thing about meta was that the identity of the person asking was never of any significant concern, with a few exceptions like questions where for an instance LGBTQ+ members were asked.

Other people have already raised the same concern as me, but for what it's worth, here's another voice:

Please don't do this to the community!

Leaving a tiny group of people to make decisions will only lead to further exclusion, where which group that is at risk is at the hands of whichever mods are in charge, and whatever messed up system you're using to determine which feedback matters more than others.

We've been ignored for years. By taking feedback out of sight, it just means it's harder to tell when things are ignored. Does that seem fair to you? Our moderators are amazing people, but they are still human. They make mistakes, they have opinions. If moderator elections turn into an entirely political election, what's the point? Moderators were elected to moderate and help as exception handlers.:

From the very first version of Stack Overflow faq way back in mid-2008, our goal has always been to give power back to the community:

...

Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt — if you don’t have human exception handling in place.

You're now stripping the community of its power and diverging from the path you originally set out on. You need to think about what you want to be when you grow up and share it with the community instead of quietly pushing change after change without listening to the main group that drives this site: the community.

  • 9
    That's the problem: when we really love something, we get attached. To the point where we leave, to then come back. The energy and motivation by community members is outstanding ... one keeps wondering how they can keep "reading all of it" but still act in the ways they do. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 26 '19 at 11:46
  • 11
    I have a reasonable guess to who this is. Glad to see you back, and I wish it was under better circumstances. – Journeyman Geek Nov 26 '19 at 11:48
36

The Loop is an attempt at silencing the community

"The Loop" is not a product designed to solve a problem that the community is facing, but a problem that Stack Exchange, Inc. is facing: The Community.

By implementing "The Loop", Stack Exchange, Inc. can avoid listening to Meta completely. They can quarantine Meta away, as "a toxic place where toxic people meet to discuss toxic ideas about how toxic they are towards Stack Exchange", and instead implement any feedback via "The Loop", a process designed to completely eliminate discussion, accountability or transparency.

The Loop removes discussion

The Loop doesn't give users the ability to make their voices heard. By placing everything into a pre-formatted questionnaire, SE, Inc. controls precisely what is being asked, and who gets to hear it.

Questions that would sound overly critical of SE, Inc. as a business, such as "Is SE, Inc. still interested in cooperating with the community?", would simply not be there.

Furthermore, there is no way for the community to talk to each other, and for SE, Inc. to be a part of that. A clear separation between community and staff is what SE, Inc. wants, but it's not in the best interest of the community.

The Loop removes accountability

On Meta, questions and answers are public and for everyone to see. If staff makes a controversial decision, people are aware of it and can voice their criticism. It can be shown, in hard numbers, how many people are for or against something.

The Loop aims to remove this "problem", by giving SE, Inc. the ability to just refer to "the Loop" as the be-all-end-all entity that governs all decisions.

We here at Stack Exchange, Inc. are happy to announce [whatever thing] because the data we gathered through the Loop indicates it's the best thing to do.

However, we can't see that data - only SE, Inc. does. So it's impossible for us to verify if any of these statements are true or not.

The Loop eliminates transparency

In a rather controversial decision, the loop requires participants to disclose race, age and gender. Now imagine, for a moment, SE, Inc. would decide that the opinions of certain groups, such as straight, white men, just doesn't count, and filters all of them out.

I'm not claiming that this is what SE, Inc. does, just that the Loop enables this kind of behavior much more easily. With their recent focus on "pronouns", it's not too far off to claim that SE, Inc. represents a very liberal (in the US sense) ideology, focused more and more on minorities they perceive to be "victims" in one sense or another. It's not too far-fetched to assume that SE, Inc. has implemented "the Loop" and it's required identification of race, age and gender, in order to "give marginalized groups a bigger voice" - which is their euphemism for "giving everyone else less of a voice".

  • 5
    Could not agree more. – J.J Nov 29 '19 at 11:45
  • 5
    And let's add: The Loop doesn't eliminate toxicality. ... At least for me, the more I feel pushed to reduce my feedback into single sentences on such surveys, the higher the chance of snarky, toxic replies. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Nov 29 '19 at 12:01
  • 6
    Toxicity will always exist, and no system in the world can remove it. Regardless of your policies, some people will get mad and say mean things. The only thing staff can do realistically is to grow thicker skin and deal with it. – MechMK1 Nov 29 '19 at 12:03
  • 1
    I think the time will come soon when new users will be asked to disclose their race, gender and sexuality (including pronouns) when registering for a new social Stack Exchange account. – Joseph Nov 29 '19 at 12:40
  • 5
    @Joseph Race: White, Gender: Male, Sexuality: Straight. Whoops! Looks like there was an error while trying to register. Try again later, please! – MechMK1 Nov 29 '19 at 12:42
32

Apparently, I belong to a minority:

enter image description here

There is more to the Stack Exchange network than just Stack Overflow.

If the goal of this survey was to make me (along with the users of the vast majority of SE's public sites) unwelcome, unwanted, and discriminated against -- by the very company that's making such a big show of patting y'selves in the back for working in the name of welcomeness -- then that goal was definitely achieved.

There's plenty more to find offensive in that blog post, and I'm staggered by the amazing amount of additional community debt that SE is taking on with its refusals to listen, but this one here really takes the cake, I must say.

  • 4
    Let's be real for a second: Stack Exchange, Inc. doesn't give the slightest fuck about any site other than Stack Overflow. That's where the money comes from. – MechMK1 Dec 3 '19 at 12:48
31

For once, I don't hate the latest (community-related) blog post… It sounds promising. Just promising, but promising nonetheless.

People at the company seem to have recognized that users of these sites — and these sites in particular — are not easily spoon-fed sweeping statements along the lines of "We know because they tell us," as Jay Hanlon did in April 2018, regarding "those in marginalized groups" feeling "less welcome". Without any data to back that up.

Or as Sara Chipps did earlier this year, in July 2019, singling out statements such as "Caustic community for new users" from the developer survey. As if that's representative data.

Now, at least, there is data. "Unwelcoming community" tops the list of frustration with 10.6%. That's a number I can believe. That's about the number of people, in my personal experience, whose ego easily bruises when faced with the reality that they're not as smart as they think they are. 10 percent, give or take, that checks out.

For the record, I do not think that this number varies in any significant way across different demographics. In fact, I'd stipulate that it would be sexist / racist / whatever-ist to assume otherwise.

But it is a noble goal to try and get that number down. Not to zero, that would be an illusion. But maybe… 5%? 2%? Something like that.

And the only viable top-down approach is to improve the site's design, mechanics, usability, tools, feedback, etc. That makes sense.

Because let's not pretend that Meta is the best tool for… any of those things. In fact, it's a poor substitute for almost all of them. Like, nobody in their right mind tracks bugs on a Q&A site. It's just not done. You want representative user feedback: run unobtrusive surveys. Instead of letting a few extroverts in the community speak for everyone else.

This is a step in the right direction. I'm curious to see where they'll go from here.

  • 2
    Jaydles did have numbers to back up his assertion on that terrible blog post, IIRC, from SE user surveys, and (non quantitative) information from (I guess) messages to moderators and direct to the company. – Raedwald Nov 25 '19 at 22:16
  • 2
    "Like, nobody in their right mind tracks bugs on a Q&A site." exactly. I don't get the negativity here ... If I understand the blog post correctly, SE will handle all the support for us that we were doing for them, and we can now waste even more time on endless discussions ... ;) – Jonas Wilms Nov 25 '19 at 22:42
  • 2
    Challenge ahead. SO is getting prepared as a company (brand) - github.com/MicrosoftDocs/TeamBlogFeedback/issues/162 – Arun Vinoth Nov 26 '19 at 4:04
  • 3
    User surveys are self-selecting, not representative. – Peter Taylor Nov 26 '19 at 8:28
  • 6
    I read @Arun's link, and find it fascinating to discover the Microsoft has chosen not to use Stack Exchange technology, because Stack Exchange does not prioritise localisation and supporting non-English character sets (?!). It's US-centric. All while they go around virtue signalling about how old-fashioned and racist and sexist we all are. Seriously?! – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 26 '19 at 14:36
  • @LightnessRaceswithMonica It might be more productive to give your feedback about Stack Exchange to Microsoft Q&A. – Stop Harming the Community Nov 27 '19 at 5:00
  • @rockwalrus-stopharmingMonica Why? It's not feedback about Microsoft. – Lightness Races BY-SA 3.0 Nov 27 '19 at 10:53
  • @LightnessRaceswithMonica Microsoft is using Stack Exchange's design as a start, but they're actively trying to avoid its flaws. – Stop Harming the Community Nov 27 '19 at 16:03
26

I want to respond to the "fundamental challenges on Meta" named in the blog post:

The problem

We have identified these fundamental challenges with Meta as we’ve grown and accrued community debt:

  1. It’s hard to capture structured feedback on Meta. There are now so many conversations that we aren’t often able to participate. As a result, users end up not feeling heard and a lot of confusion (including some misinformation) is generated.

It's hard to take this problem statement seriously when your first survey in "The Loop" has exactly two questions asking for feedback:

What do you like best about using Stack Overflow?

What do you find most frustrating or unappealing about using Stack Overflow?

How exactly is that "more structured"?

How will users "end up feeling heard" better by using a black box to drop their feedback into?

  1. On Meta, there are discussions, some that go on for a long time without a clear answer.

Why is that a challenge? Unless you're trying to use Meta as an issue tracker. But that was never its purpose.

  1. Meta tends to exclude people that aren’t super immersed in the Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange culture.

I believe that is true of almost any feedback mechanism. Why do you imagine you'll get a greater response rate from some other mechanism, or that it will give you more valuable information than reading what your most engaged, community-oriented readers have to say?

  1. Meta requests don’t integrate with any existing ticketing system, so our Community Managers need to prioritize the best they can and answer the threads deemed most important at the time.

This seems a somewhat valid concern, but the votes on Meta posts should give you at least some indication of importance and community interest in problems raised.

  • But a Q&A site is a poor fit for a meta site. – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 '19 at 6:00
  • 1
    @PeterMortensen Q&A as it's done on meta has one big advantage, all the single Qs are focused. "What do you like best about using Stack Overflow?" is the opposite of focused and would be closed as too broad. The connection between the different Qs is kind of the problem, I think. – Trilarion Nov 26 '19 at 10:59
25

The last time I filled in a questionnaire for stack overflow it contained a question about gender. I filled in the gender non-conforming option (effectively turning me, a white male, to be classified among the gender minorities in the statistics).

We all know what happened after that.

Stack Overflow found out that 1.2% of their visitors/respondents do not associate with the standard male/female category boxes (instead: Non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming). Besides that one question, the report of that questionnaire is loaded with gender aspects (making it appear as if the decision about 'gender=important' was made before the results of questionaire). It seems like that (among other things) steered them into making extreme measures to make non-binary people feel more welcomed.... regardless what the outcome of the questionnaire does!

And now it is a mess.


We want to address all these things and be transparent about how we’re paying down some of this community debt.

Questionnaires like these are just hiding the issues behind a pile of imprecise numbers and allows management to make decisions without actually talking to the users of the websites and the contributors that generate the content of the website.


So what do I think about this questionnaire:

The more distance the better.

Questionnaires like these make sure that no staff member needs to go chat with people on meta or elsewhere. A management tool to hide incompetence in communication.

23

How was it decided that the following three should be grouped together: "Native American, Pacific Islander, or Indigenous Australian"?

Doing a google for this phrase gives pretty much only Stack Overflow/Exchange results, from the results of surveys from past years.

If the answer is “We consulted expert X and they said Y and Z”, that’s fine, I don’t expect Stack Exchange to do their own research, but I’d like to know the rationale.

  • 4
    Presumably, those are all "Indigenous Peoples." Natives, in other words. – user102937 Nov 26 '19 at 22:41
  • 1
    @AndrewGrimm isn't that obvious? They are all of the same 'race'. – Sextus Empiricus Nov 28 '19 at 9:32
  • @SextusEmpiricus at the end you drop a \s – aloisdg moving to codidact.com Nov 29 '19 at 9:54
  • 6
    If we're grouping like this, why not go one tiny step further and provide only the following options for Race: (1) Privileged (2) Marginalized? Thinking about it, those options could be reused for the other questions. – dfhwze Nov 29 '19 at 13:23
  • Now made into a question: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/339467/… – Andrew Grimm Dec 1 '19 at 11:22
22

So, hot on the heels of the sound condemnation SO Inc received for using some highly sketchy gender profiling data as their driver for the recent Question reputation changes they decide that it would be a good idea to do some straight-up ethnic and gender profiling data gathering of their own.

This time it's in the form of a yet another word salad blog post and a survey that would fall short of the quality I'd expect from an intern on their first day.

The blog post hits many of the talking points that have become de rigour in recent times, and to my ears they are sounding increasingly hollow -

create an experience that works for all users

Just so long as "all" doesn't include the experienced and long serving members of the community who have been leaving the network in droves, the members of the lavender community who have felt driven from the network, the moderators who have been disenfranchised and cast aside and so on.

We’d like to share with you some of the reasons why we make decisions and what inputs we listen to

I'd sarcastically quip something like "that would be a first!", except SO Inc used to do just that. Using the "Rewarding the Askers" fiasco as the most recent example I think this actually translates as "We'll come up with whatever saccharine tripe we think will make us look good."

as well as give you a place to weigh in

What a brilliant idea! Perhaps you could have a Q&A site for the network where users can weigh in and staff (sorry Stackers - so. much. cringe.) could see what the community thinks and respond where appropriate. Think about it - you could even have a separate such site for each of the sites in the network to let the differing needs of the sites be reflected.

show everyone how we think about serving the larger developer and technical community

Finally something that actually sounds like honesty - albeit in a backhanded, inferred way. It's no secret that the non-SO stacks and the non-technical ones in particular aren't anything more than second-class citizens at best. Tolerated in order to keep precious, precious traffic from disappearing off to Quora or Reddit when they have a query that's not coding related. It's a good thing that SO Inc aren't bothering to keep up the pretense of caring. It must have been so tiring for them.

be clear about the “why” behind our decisions

Oh, my sides.

If you’ve been with us for a long time, you may remember when our research process involved regular, direct exchanges between users and staff on Meta. Today, this process has been largely replaced by 1:1 user interviews, as well as other methods like surveys and contextual research.

So SO Inc.. how's that working out for you? Obviously not great since they now want to "fix" this by creating a working group of users to ask them things, essentially like meta but with one key difference that is shown by these two phrases:

We’ll hand-select folks..

and,

identified the people we would like to recruit

Factoring in the ethnic and gender profiling from the Loop survey this means either a) they want to do some good old fashioned virtue signalling and show off how they've got this special group of wonderfully diverse people that they engage with and trot them out in front of the world like show ribbons on a prize hog or b) they want an echo chamber sitting ready to rubber stamp whatever plans they have and are covering themselves from any accusations of discrimination.

I'm not racist, some of my best friends working group members are black!

Of course if the are to do this they need to get rid of the inconvenient existence of Meta. And yes Meta isn't working great right now - but the reasons that the blog gives don't quite hold up.

It’s hard to capture structured feedback on Meta. There are now so many conversations that we aren’t often able to participate. As a result, users end up not feeling heard and a lot of confusion (including some misinformation) is generated.

Users aren't feeling heard - because they aren't being heard. Staff don't need to participate in all conversations, that's just a Nirvana fallacy, the voting system and other activity metrics already give them a good guide as to what threads are worth looking at for them. In the last three days or so there has been <50 new questions posted on MSE, heck many people get more emails than that a day. It has nothing to do with ability to participate in what's important - it's all about a willingness to participate.

On Meta, there are discussions, some that go on for a long time without a clear answer.

Maybe, maybe if someone at SO Inc decided to step up and provide some clarity that would help? Others are discursive and will never get a clear answer, but that's okay - they can be disengaged from if necessary.

Meta tends to exclude people that aren’t super immersed in the Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange culture.

In many ways this is true - but how do you solve a problem of exclusion but creating a system that excludes even more people? Both the putative users working group and "moderator council" are by definition going to be even smaller subsets of users than those who engage in Meta.

Meta requests don’t integrate with any existing ticketing system, so our Community Managers need to prioritize the best they can and answer the threads deemed most important at the time.

You mean, paid employees might actually have to do some work? Things aren't just going to be delivered neatly wrapped in a big shiny bow?

Not that this matters anyway since..

We plan to transition things like bug reports, user and customer support, user feedback, and company announcements off of Meta over the course of next year.

So that's that then. The decision has been made, the gish has been galloped and RIP Meta. It wasn't perfect, it could have been better, but I guess we'll never know.

PS: Such a minor thing in the context of this car crash of a blog post, but I do wish they'd stop it with the pathetic twisting of everything into tortured IT analogies "community debt" (like technical debt..see! see!) "human in the loop" (it's from Machine Learning, that's hip now right?). I'm not sure whether it's because they think that their entire audience is made up of developers (not true) and that developers can only understand things in IT terms (also not true) or whether they think it's "cool" or "quirky" or something. Either way it's almost as cringey as "Stackers" (which is surely the cringiest term for a group of employees since Apple started referring to their in-store support staff as "Geniuses") and I wish it would go away.

20

I think everything has looped back to Meta is Murder phase. Wondering how long it takes to get back to

When the co-founder of Stack Exchange responds to your meta post – even if it wasn't exactly what you may have wanted to hear – I hope it speaks volumes about how committed we are to really, truly building this thing alongside our community. [1]

If ever. Because at the moment we're more like at

When the employees are exempt from participating in to meta discussions – even if you'd like to hear literally anything that isn't marketing/corporate lingo – I hope it speaks volumes about how committed we are to really, truly building this thing alongside our community.

20

I'm not a fan. Now I don't have a crystal ball to see what they're going to do with this data, but in light with recent events and the general tone deafness they've displayed this doesn't bode well for us.

I guess time will tell what comes out of it, but it's not a great look to start "rebuilding of trust" by snubbing everyone openly. I'm not a fan of even less transparency, which is what this is. I hope at least the working group will be public in who gets to be a member, why they're selected and their recommendations and feedback will also be public.

We need substantially more transparency at every step of the decision making process, and this is a way in the opposite direction.

20

My feedback to their feedback:

A subset of users with more influence (aka Working group)

It seems to destroy the cohesion of the community and puts the company in control of the whole process. Feels a bit like unpaid beta testing to me. I would have the feeling I'm working for the company, not for the community and I wouldn't probably want to do that.

Not even sure I understood what the problem is. Somehow they are not able to process all the feedback that they are getting through meta??

A subset of moderators with more duties (aka Moderator advisor group)

It seems to destroy the cohesion of the moderators and puts even more working burden on those moderators. I genuinely hope they get paid for this because doing it is a lot of work. The community moderator roles here become more and more like the role of company employees.

I understand the problem though. Documenting the moderator experience and process is nice. But I thought that is a task for employees of the company.

Migrating bug reports and other stuff off of meta (but where?)

"There are now so many conversations that we aren’t often able to participate." I don't understand what the problem is. I thought SO has grown a lot in the last time employee-wise and so the ability to participate in conversations should have improved. Is the problem too much feedback?

"Meta requests don’t integrate with any existing ticketing system" That could probably be achieved with reasonable effort. Just scan meta once per week and update/synchronize with any existing ticket system.

As a complement to meta I can see many good things coming from ticketing systems etc. but otherwise I feel like the cohesion of the community is destroyed and discussions will be almost impossible then.

Just think about what you give up in return. All the good ideas of the community. In a way that is like the opposite of listening.

Miscellaneous issues

Some users may value their privacy (like their gender, age, ...) and by asking them for it or weighting feedback by it, you may miss out on them. For example, the exact gender composition of the users isn't really known and also shouldn't be. That may be a problem for the whole process.

The name is very fancy and may be misleading. Why do cooperations always come up with a fancy name for something that turns out to be just some ordinary kind of survey?

It became clear in the last years that feature request are largely ignored. I fear the new system will not change this much. Surely a ticketing system gives some kind of statistical overview but it doesn't magically increase the number of technical people working on the stuff, or does it?

By relying on a selected subset of users for feedback instead of the whole community you kind of lose signal. I understand the idea to kind of make it more representative of the whole community, but depending on the size of the subset (should be at least some thousands of users to be diverse enough I would guess) the loss of total signal might still outweigh any improvement in composition.

Taking more control might speed up the whole process on the company side, which might be a good thing, but it decreases the sense of community and self-determination of the community. Will I be happy to be a small input sensor with all the subsequent analysis and decisions be made by someone else? Now at least I can vote on things a bit. And if the whole community members aren't happy, will they participate? Will the result be as good as before or maybe even worse?

"..north of 100k new users signing up to the public Q&A each month.." This is somewhat misleading or not very informative because the net inflow of new users is probably much smaller (would need to account for all the old users not being seen any more). A historic trend series of net inflow of users would give more context here.

18

If possible, I'd like to see another question in that survey, along the lines of:

  1. Is this your first time giving feedback to Stack Overflow, the company?
    • yes
    • no, I have previously:
      • written on Meta (site-specific or general Meta)
      • used the "contact us" link
      • (other applicable)
    • prefers not to reply

I think it fits within the "new feedback mechanism" to gather some info about the before/after. I'd really like some stats about how much "new, fresh" feedback there is.

Plus it might inform unaware people of the previous feedback mechanism in place.

  • 7
    You could add "@'d a developer/community manager on twitter" as a form of previously giving feedback. – FiringSquadWitness Nov 25 '19 at 20:59

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