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In today's blog post Introducing “The Loop”: A Foundation in Listening, it is mentioned,

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.

The summary further mentions that,

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

What is the selection process for this "working group"? From the wording of the post (e.g. using terms like "hand-select", and mentioning that non-Stack Overflow users are expected to be recruited), it sounds like the process is likely to be somewhat opaque, but is there anything a "wannabe" member can do to express interest, market their qualifications, or achieve required prerequisites? That is, is there essentially nothing anyone can do but sit back and see if they are called, or is there anything a person who is interested in being part of this group can do to position themselves as a candidate?

  • Are invitations expected to be sent out to people randomly selected out of big data databases?
  • Will Stack Overflow be reaching out to specific organizations or programming personalities with requests for individual candidate referrals?
  • Is this going to be an in-person recruitment thing, with Stack Overflow employees setting up booths at university campuses, job sites, conventions, etc. and trying to sign people up?
  • Will recruitment happen more or less like a job listing, with resumes, interviews, white-board testing, background checks, etc.?
  • Will being part of the working group actually be a staff position at the company?
  • Is there a specific Stack Overflow site metric that will be considered of primary importance in qualifying for membership (e.g. main site reputation, helpful flag count, number of reviews performed, number of Meta posts, quality of Meta posts, not having been put in timed suspension too many times, etc.)?
  • Is there essentially no hope of qualifying if one is not already famous?
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    This is interesting. Thanks for highlighting. – QHarr Nov 25 at 18:41
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    To qualify for a working group having no meta account is a pre-condition. – rene Nov 25 at 19:34
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    The answer is they’re going to pick for us. And they’re going to minimize the number of “meta regulars”. At least the ones that have been regulars up til now. – Dan Bron Nov 25 at 20:17
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    That doesn't sound very welcoming. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Nov 25 at 20:59
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    @DanBron I suspect they'll focus on picking people that they think will tell them what they want to hear anyway... – Andy Nov 26 at 0:25
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    @Andy No, I think they’re honest and sincere and want actual customer feedback, including tough feedback. They just don’t want the old guard’s feedback because our model of the site’s purpose no longer aligns with theirs. Plus I assume they assume they know what a meta regular would say - they have years and years of meta posts – Dan Bron Nov 26 at 0:27
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    @DanBron "No, I think they’re honest and sincere and want actual customer feedback, including tough feedback...". Exactly this. Thanks for writing this out. I would upvote more than once if I could. – Yaakov Ellis Nov 26 at 8:38
  • It's not exactly clear to me what this working group will actually do. Will they gather feedback from the rest of the community? Will they be identifiable like mods are, or will they be anonymous? Will they be literally working, and hence eligible for monetary payment? – PM 2Ring Nov 26 at 10:02
  • @YaakovEllis, would you say you also agree with the second part of that comment, " They just don’t want the old guard’s feedback because our model of the site’s purpose no longer aligns with theirs. Plus I assume they assume they know what a meta regular would say - they have years and years of meta posts"? – Nate S - Reinstate Monica Nov 26 at 17:37
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    @NateS-ReinstateMonica I wouldn't agree with all of the language. We are not not interested in the old guard's feedback (and yes, we are pretty familiar with the general patterns of feedback on Meta). It is more along the lines of: assuming that Meta accurately represents the opinions and needs of all types of users from the site ends up leaving the majority of users unrepresented. The various surveys (as well as other avenues of UX research) are attempts to get more exposure to the viewpoints and opinions of more types of users. – Yaakov Ellis Nov 26 at 18:04
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    @YaakovEllis ...So we're now at the point where in meta minorities are more represented than the majority? Do you see the irony there? – ChatterOne Nov 26 at 21:08
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I'll give you some tips - of the ha-ha-only-serious variety:

  • Pretend to be concerned about gender and race issues. Use the words "diverse" and "inclusive" a lot. (Really, they're suckers for that.)
  • Don't actually do anything useful about these issues, especially in real life. Alternatively, do something heavy-handed and self-aggrandizing.
  • Have an active social-media presence and bring these issues up - but again, don't actually publicize activity that might actually change anything in the real world.
  • Put a "my pronouns are etc. etc." in your profile.
  • Do not be active on meta.stackexchange.com .
  • Do not criticise SE Inc. policy.

I think that should get you past the front door. If you're not Caucasian(/White), or if you're Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Queer/etc - then you are a diversity-increaser, which really boosts your chances of making into that working group if you don't voice the wrong opinions.

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My guess - an evil one.

Disclaimer: this is speculative and tongue-in-cheek. I've no idea what they will actually come up with, and very little interest at this point.

They could:

  1. Have a blacklist of people who they definitely don't want to hear from (i.e. everybody who dared criticize or oppose any SE policy in the past few years) → filter those out
  2. The rest is fair game, but with the following pre / post filters:
    • Pre-filter: the lower the reputation, the better. Users who are new to the network tend to dislike / misunderstand / not know or care about the rules that made the network (and especially, Stack Overflow) great. They are more malleable and will be less critical of whatever comes from SE management.
    • Post-filter #1: any user whose feedback does not align with whatever arbitrary set of decisions (i.e. pretty much anyone who displays any form of criticism other than some bland weaksauce potty-trained encouragement) → magically disappears from stats
    • Post-filter #2: diversity. Intended as an absolute value by most woke/politically correctness/identity politics advocates. So I would expect the final data to be "massaged" in order to have some artificial "parity", regardless of the actual stats from the working group's members. In hindsight, this might also apply as a pre-filter.

As far as I can tell, there is no transparency, nor any willingness to display any, and no authoritative, impartial control planned for this.

Basically this feedback loop process will likely equate to whatever you find in big companies, whenever corporate HQ wants some fake encouragement from an imaginary "base", in order to reinforce/justify whatever current policies and new policies in the works.

SE is a private company, and they can afford to not be accountable on anything here at all. My feeling is that they will likely not be interested in making any of this transparent (otherwise, they would have done the hard work and talked to the actual community on meta).

Too cynical for you?

Just wait for the outcome.

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Based on current behaviour I'm expecting them to recruit from the full range of people who toe the new company line slavishly.

Clearly from the continued lack of proper engagement with people in the community that is now happening here and happened previously on other sites and which drives people away without fail, SE is far more interested in new user churn than any real sense of community. If you're an old hand on any of the sites then it's over, ladies and gentlemen.

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There will be no working group.

The suggestions & feedback moving forward will be a black box. Upcoming changes will be released with a thanks to the "working group" (sometimes referred to as "members of the community" or simply "the community").

Of course, no one will know what kind of feedback is given or by how many individuals.

Seriously though, IMO the working group does not matter if there is no way to see the specific feedback the "working group" has given. How will anyone know their apparent feedback is being used?

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    It's probably going to be a fully secret affair in who is a member and what they recommend, so it's effectively schrodinger's working group. It exists and doesn't exist at the same time. – Magisch Nov 27 at 8:13
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  • Is this going to be an in-person recruitment thing, with Stack Overflow employees setting up booths at university campuses, job sites, conventions, etc. and trying to sign people up?

  • Will being part of the working group actually be a staff position at the company?

No to these two points. While I don't work for the company, it's my educated guess that they're not going to give up the whole community which provides feedback for free in favour of a small group of paid positions.

Ask yourself, why would they spend money if they can get what they want for free?

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    Re "why would spend money if they can get what they want for free?": Control, power, and good stuff like that. – Peter Mortensen Nov 26 at 4:29
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    @PeterMortensen not being paid doesn't mean you can't be fired. As they say (see quote in the question): "We’ll hand-select folks". So again my question, why pay if many loyal subjects will do this task for free? If they don't produce the desired results the company can always handpick different people. In fact, having an employment contract may actually make that more difficult. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 26 at 4:49
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    They are going to handpick a diverse group of people, as if each such individual represents an entire sub-culture. – dfhwze Nov 26 at 5:57
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My guess is that they have a list of different backgrounds they want people from, e.g. something like:

  • Users who are new programmers and use SO avidly
  • Users who are new programmers, but don't use SO
  • Users who are experienced programmers and use SO avidly
  • Users who are experienced programmers and don't use SO
  • People who hate SO in its current form (with subgroups by reasons)
  • People who love SO in its current form
  • (Meta regulars)
  • (People who hate meta)

The goal seems to be to create a group of people they can run suggestions past that can pre-inform them of the reaction they'll get and provide feedback ahead of time, to avoid bubble-thinking and make more equitable decisions.

That is my most charitable interpretation I can come up with, and I'm not yet ready to assume they're making all this fuss to select yes-people who only further confirmation bias.

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    I never expected that my love/hate relationship with both main and meta would make me a candidate for several focus groups ... – rene Nov 26 at 11:03
  • @rene I don't assume anyone who has been participating in the recent controversy will be considered, tbh. – Magisch Nov 26 at 11:53
  • This seems reasonable, but doesn't really answer the question. I was asking about the actual process for selecting people from each of these categories. Will they be accepting nominations? Will they be purchasing lists of people in each category from third-party data brokers and selecting names at random? Is there a team of internal headhunters with a war room full of photos and dossiers of the people they are stalking/grooming? – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Nov 26 at 11:55
  • If I may, what would you need to assume that they are bent on creating an echo chamber filled with yes-men? I too avoid assuming malice when other explanations are plausible, but I am curious as to what other people consider to be the limit of this exercise. – AEhere supports Monica Nov 26 at 11:56
  • @AEheresupportsMonica I'll be gone before that point. When my frame of mind is so thoroughly done with the company that I'd assume pure malice I would have nothing left to say to them, and no reason to stay so I'd just leave. Delete my account perhaps. – Magisch Nov 26 at 12:00
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    @ColumbiasaysReinstateMonica nobody but SE can answer that and I wouldn't hold my breath for getting an answer. It looks like they have an internal team to decide who is going to be on it, as they say they'll have a list of recruits by the end of the year, considering between thanksgiving and christmas there's like 2 productive weeks left in the year it'll probably be a one-sided selection process to meet that deadline. – Magisch Nov 26 at 12:01
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    In American English corporate speak “diverse” usually means variety based gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, not diversity of perspective. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 26 at 16:43
  • What's all this about "programmers"? I'm an avid Stack Exchange user and have never touched a program except at the theatre. – Rand al'Thor Nov 27 at 8:13
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    @Randal'Thor they've made quite obviously clear they care first and foremost about SO, SO users and potential SO users. It's not even clear if any of this "the loop" stuff will come to non-SO meta sites, and the survey makes it clear that they're categorising feedback by programming experience. I don't like it either, but it is what it is. – Magisch Nov 27 at 8:16
  • This is a virtual community, how are you going to guarantee diverse? – Mister Positive Nov 27 at 13:29
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    @MisterPositive apparently via asking people to self categorize, as you can see. I think it's ultimately a fool's errand, as one of the major draws of this place is the anonymity, but I'm not in charge so vis-a-vis. – Magisch Nov 27 at 13:33
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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.

This is a doomed attempt to form a type of club. Those who are not a part of it will most certainly feel unwelcome or exposed should they want to join and are not selected.

Seriously, how are you legitimately going to justify the appointment of one person over another? If you are going to create of group of power users, which my gut feeling says that is what might happen, they should be elected.

If it is going to be a combination of members and CM/SE employees this would be fine by me so long as the members are elected. I made this same point regarding the moderation of the TL 2.

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    I doubt they only want "power users". Afterall, they already got plenty of power users along with all their feedback on this very site, just that they're all big meanies. What they want is everyone but power users. – Chris says Reinstate Monica Nov 27 at 13:35
  • @ChrissaysReinstateMonica Time will tell. – Mister Positive Nov 27 at 13:37
  • @Chris is totally correct. Most power users are against SE these days. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Nov 27 at 13:42
  • @ShadowThePrincessWizard I need to borrow your crystal ball please. Seriously though I highly doubt all power users are against SE. Some for sure, not all though, and I doubt its a majority. – Mister Positive Nov 27 at 13:45
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    @MisterPositive I said "most", not "all". I might say "most power users I know", so yeah, if you're looking for accuracy "some power users are against SE" is most accurate. But it doesn't matter a bit: SE will take only people who are 1) Easy to work with, and of course 2) Agree without questioning each and every action SE takes, in core matters like policy or firing mods. For example, people like Monica or George Stocker can never be part of the "working group", they're burned for their opinions. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Nov 27 at 13:50
  • @MisterPositive sadly they have set themselves a deadline (end of the year) and already confirmed they'll be hand picking the members, and those members will probably be kept secret, as well as any of their recommendations – Magisch Nov 27 at 14:00
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    I wouldn't even mind if the members where picked instead of elected. What I feel matters is that members are not hamstrung from sharing the details of their discussions with SE. If SE decides to run this as a black box, and members have to agree to keep it secret, it won't be anything more than an echo chamber. – fbueckert Nov 27 at 14:38
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    @fbueckert If I am not selected or offered a position in the club, I would like a clear explanation as to why. If I don't win an election, its clear why I did not make the cut, and not to mention its fair. – Mister Positive Nov 27 at 14:46
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    Very understandable, @MisterPositive. But...the company hasn't been fair to it's users in a very long time. I don't expect them to start now. But in order to rebuild trust, the working group needs to be transparent. Actions are currently being dictated, and that's what's led to much of the discontent lately; lack of agency after years of neglect make for a fiery mess. – fbueckert Nov 27 at 14:58

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