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We've had woefully poor success attempting to dialogue with the company through Meta, a petition, email, phone, and the Contact Us form.

What attempts, if any, have been made to reach out to members of the Board of Directors (other than Joel Spolsky)?

The composition of the Board: Brad Burnham (Union Square Ventures), Adrianna Burrows (Payscale), Anil Dash (Glitch), Peter Levine (Andressen Horowitz), Neil Rimer (Index Ventures), Bijan Sabet (Spark Capital).


@Lewis has suggested that to attempt contacting any of them would constitute harassment. I am asking if this has been tried, in order to avoid going back over ground that may have been tried already.


If anyone wants to write up a post that lays out reasons for or against contacting them, please write a separate question where such a post would be on point.


January 19, 2020 (one month after posting the question): Has anyone taken Anil up on his kind offer? Has he been responsive? (I was tied up with Winter Session, but have emailed him today.)

Also, a new, related idea: If anyone has some personal connection with Adam Fenty, "special advisor" to the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (which invested $40 million in SE in 2014, according to Wikipedia), "hired to advise the firm's portfolio companies on working with local, state, and federal governments," and wants to reach out -- I wonder if that would help? Note, his undergraduate and grad schools were Oberlin and Howard, respectively. If you are an alum from either of these schools -- that might make it easier to make a cold call.

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    With this question I would say that the community really has tried everything reasonable (and some unreasonable things too). That is, except for Twitter posts, of course. :) – Trilarion Dec 20 '19 at 10:13
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    Notice how some of those board members sit on dozens of boards: "Peter serves on the board of the following Andreessen Horowitz portfolio companies: Actifio, Alluxio Inc., Bromium, Cumulus Networks, Cyngn, D2iQ, DigitalOcean, Instart, Maxta, Mixpanel, Netlify, People.ai, PlanetScale, Shield AI, and Udacity [plus those they didn't bother to list, including SE!]". – Nemo Jan 19 at 9:06
  • @Nemo - link, please? – aparente001 Jan 19 at 16:22
  • @aparente001 it's the link in your post! a16z.com/author/peter-levine – Nemo Jan 19 at 18:00
  • @Nemo - Ah. I had posted the links provided on the company webpage, without underestanding them. Now I'm wondering, would this Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm provide the chink we need, to try to open up a productive dialogue? Wikipedia says that SE was added to its portfolio in 2014 ($40 million). I wonder if Adam Fenty might be somebody to try? If anyone is an Oberlin or Howard U alum -- that might be a helpful connection. Wikipedia says Fenty is a "special advisor ... hired to advise the firm's portfolio companies on working with local, state, and federal governments." – aparente001 Jan 19 at 18:11
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    @aparente001 Andreessen Horowitz is one of the most aggressive and powerful venture capital firms out there. They're likely to be one of the main forces behind whatever the top management is doing, and I'm not aware of them having experience with any collaborative online community other than SE, or even open source projects, so we have no data points to judge them other than their handling of SE itself. Now I see he wrote something on Open Source: From Community to Commercialization (more). – Nemo Jan 19 at 18:17
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    @Nemo - Good digging. I see that it was written by this Peter guy on October 4, 2019. I haven't read his post yet -- but this looks promising. // Can you explain the structure and process of this venture capital firm? Wikipedia says it's structured differently from the tradiition model (whatever that is). // Let's try to figure out how to structure something in this as a question, either here or at a SE site. – aparente001 Jan 19 at 18:19
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    You will like this one ... twitter.com/gortok/status/1218161698105892864 – GhostCat Jan 19 at 20:24
  • Correction: they do have some involvement in open source, with some projects mentioned in the article above and some in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreessen_Horowitz : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenBazaar and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ripple_(payment_protocol) – Nemo Jan 19 at 20:48
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+350

For what it's worth, I'm on the board, and have been following along with pretty much all of the conversations here in Meta. (For perspective, I experience the community as a fairly typical user — low rep, not a mod, I come for answers when I'm working on code, I don't really use Meta.) I'm fine for people to contact me (I'm anil@glitch.com), and I share what I learn from community members with the management team. That being said, I'm pretty much never going to publicly comment directly on things because it wouldn't be respectful to the team that's working on everything if I distract from their efforts. Also, candidly, it's hard to comment without people reading a lot into every bit of phrasing I use or teasing out meanings that I might not have even been aware of, or intended, so I try to refrain from doing so.

Also, I really appreciate that everyone is so thoughtful here about being mindful in the ways you all reach out to people. (Yes, people do contact me all the time about this stuff. No, they tend to not be the people who are as thoughtful as those in this thread. I understand that's not representative of everyone overall.) I'd also say my being accessible is a choice I'm making for me, and others on the board may, for very good personal or professional or liability reasons, not want to open up to that, and I'm not advocating reaching out to them the same way. But anybody here who wants to share something with me is more than welcome to.

To set expectations properly, I can't wave a magic wand and grant any wishes that the community raises. I also can't make a thoughtful, deliberate process go faster than it should; hard, complicated work takes time. If there's something that's been overlooked or that is useful context, I'm happy to pass it along, but I literally can't recall a time when I shared something with the team that they hadn't already considered themselves; typically they understand the issues far more deeply than me and are already working diligently on fixing any problems that are being discussed.

I can say this as a user of the site, and someone who gets a narrow glimpse into how the company works: your words are absolutely heard, and people care deeply about doing the right thing. Addressing complex issues takes time, and I do understand that can be frustrating. But the underlying question here seems to be if the board is aware of what gets discussed here, and whether engaging us would yield a different result for people who are frustrated. The short answer there, speaking only for myself is that I definitely see what people are saying here, and I definitely know the team at the company is working really hard to do right by everyone. I've seen a lot of companies that are dismissive or uncaring about community, and this isn't one, and the fact that so many people are invested in advocating for their vision of the site is the best evidence of that.

I hope this is useful; I wanted to respond because it's so rare that I have a chance at getting an upvoted answer these days. :) (And please don't turn this into an "official statement", that makes it really hard to respond like this! It's just my two cents.)

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    Thanks. "I definitely know the team at the company is working really hard to do right by everyone" -- that's what makes the impasse so incredibly frustrating. – aparente001 Dec 19 '19 at 16:36
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    @aparente001 The impasse goes both ways. – Bryan Krause Dec 19 '19 at 16:44
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    @BryanKrause - Well, obviously, when there is an impasse, that means there is a north-facing Zax and a south-facing Zax (reference to Dr Seuss). What were you getting at? Were you hinting that the company's seemingly contradictory, inconsistent positions and actions make sense to you? If so, would you care to develop a "Story So Far" post laying it out? That would be hugely productive. I would be grateful if you would give it a try. – aparente001 Dec 19 '19 at 16:48
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    I've seen a lot of companies that are dismissive or uncaring about community, and this isn't one -- This is going to need something more than words. We've been told this forever. Actions, however, say something far different. – fbueckert Dec 19 '19 at 16:55
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    Thanks for the answer. It definitely answers the question and I found it very nice to read, except for one bit "I've seen a lot of companies that are dismissive or uncaring about community, and this isn't one". I really wish that the company would have had found more and better ways in the last months to show how much they care about their community. Somehow this message did not make it through. Maybe some of the sadness could have been avoided, not by working harder but by making sure that this point does not get lost in translation. Communication of the company could've been better, I'd say. – Trilarion Dec 19 '19 at 17:02
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    I cannot express how appreciative I am that there is a board member who is reading Meta. – Stop Harming the Community Dec 19 '19 at 17:06
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    @rockwalrus-stopharmingMonica - Agreed. And that board member is also letting us know that he has been reading it. – aparente001 Dec 19 '19 at 17:11
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    Glitch is awesome and I'm impressed how you handle and build the community over there. I realize the smaller size helps but I do hope you keep SO in The Loop on things that failed and worked for the Glitch community so we all can benefit from that in rebuilding trust in and with this old, aged and confused SE community. – rene Dec 19 '19 at 17:13
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    Wow. Thank you so much for this answer. It takes courage to put yourself forward like this, and I really appreciate that you did so. Having this sort of input is really important to us since it shows us that some of the people with their hands on the tiller actually do know about the site. We, or at least I, had no idea that was the case and had kind of assumed it wasn't. So this sort of clearly personal and non-"official" answer, is wonderful to see. Thanks! – terdon Dec 19 '19 at 17:47
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    @AnilDash Happy to read this! As someone who contributes regularly and just stumbled into this whole mess (fiasco?) I find this post to be a really solid response that works well in contrast — to honestly — some of the other responses. That said — and again as someone who only recently stumbled onto this — I honestly find it very baffling that the staff of a company that was founded by someone who is Jewish (Joel Spolsky) and that hosts a solid Judaism SE would somehow suspend a mod on said forum on Shabbos and Rosh Hashanah. I am still baffled by that. – Giacomo1968 Dec 20 '19 at 4:51
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    I fully agree with @terdon-stopharmingMonica : it is feels great to read your answer. But it also reminds that I felt great when reading David Fullerton response to community complains some weeks ago ... We were assured there, too, that the company is listening and intends to work with us. Yet, nothing happened in regards of Monica Cellio, well, besides "this is a lawyer thing now", which means that there won't be a resolution, but probably a trial, and whatnot. – GhostCat Dec 20 '19 at 10:14
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    My worry is that this seems to be incorrectly interpreted in-house as a complex issue that SE management encountered and is navigating through, and not as a simple issue that SE management repeatedly mishandled, and turned into a complex, no-win scenario. It's hard to have faith in future behavior if they're rejecting the idea that their behavior caused the issue. But... I do wish them well and hope they can rectify things. – Ask About Monica Dec 20 '19 at 18:04
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    +1 for answering the question in the post (on whether or not the board of directors is aware). But it seems to me that this just shows that nothing would change and SE would never apologize to Monica unless ordered by a court. – JonathanReez Dec 22 '19 at 2:48
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    I've seen a lot of companies that are dismissive or uncaring about community, and this isn't one while I have genuine trouble seeing this... now more than ever... I really appreciate your coming here and answering this the way you did. – Pekka Jan 16 at 11:08
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    Now that SE is firing emblematic people from its own CM team, you need to be aware (although I hope you were, already) that we're more lost than we have ever been. Can you, or some other SE official, enlighten us on the actual strategy? At that point, even a honest "screw tou guys, you're of no value to us, because [this and that]" would be appreciated. – dim Jan 19 at 12:08
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Has anyone tried approaching any of the investors to improve community-company communication?

I haven't, and I don't think it would be a good idea, mainly for a reason that haven't seen here yet: you actually have no idea how many other people tried it, and therefore you have no knowledge whether you are the 10th person coming to annoy one of these board members.

In other words: as tempting as it sounds, it is extremely hard to predict how such an attempt of "side channel communication" would come over, and whether you are the only person doing it, or if you are actually just a snowflake in a small avalanche.

If you happen to know one of these people personally, and you happen to meet that person in a casual setup, sure, different story. Then I would probably ask "Do you know what is going on right now, and what are your thoughts on it?"

Beyond that, there is a certain chance that putting up such a list of names leads to a negative effect: that people pick up your idea, and try individually to approach the folks listed in the question.

What could be a valid approach: see if any of these folks talk about SE Inc. or the community on public space, for example their twitter feed. Then it might be reasonable to leave a polite response there. Meaning: responding to a statement is something different then approaching total strangers in unsolicited ways.

Beyond that: I am not afraid of annoying people. But I have seen with my own eyes how people with "good intentions" achieved the exact opposite of the desired outcome when confronting "higher ups" the wrong way.

Thing is: unless you come extremely well prepared, with a clear message, and hard evidence for your arguments, you better think twice before speaking up. Most often, such people have very limited time. The second they consider you wasting their time, that second you start to hurt your goals.

So a random person randomly contacting such folks, without good preparation, and without any sort of "mandate" is unlikely to achieve something useful. And worst case, such a person will be perceived as "typical META user". Adding to the impression that SE Inc. is actually doing the right thing by looking for alternative paths to acquire feedback, from users that really matter, not those toxic META people.

Finally: lucky us, we have one thoughtful board member reading what we have to say. And interestingly enough, that underlines major points made here, and in some comments: they already get contacted, and it seems in pretty un-coordinated ways that aren't that productive.

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    This is essentially what I was getting at. I suppose "harassment" was probably too strong a word - but the crux of it lies in this, "you have no knowledge whether you are the 10th person coming to annoy one of these board members". Contacting them in a public space is definitely a valid option, however. – user377035 Dec 19 '19 at 16:12
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    The folks who are afraid to annoy people never change anything. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. One can be polite, communicate what someone should know about the entity their money is invested in, and then let them do with that information what they will; that’s not harassment. The contact information that’s public is probably filtered and using it may have no effect, but warning people away from annoying people with the power to change something for the better is defending the status quo in my opinion. – ColleenV Dec 19 '19 at 16:23
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    I'm not "defending the status quo", or at least not intentionally. I'm just trying to remember that there are real people behind this at the end of the day. Great, they may have the power to change things for the better - but intentionally annoying them to achieve that goal lacks a little "humanity" as far as I'm concerned. – user377035 Dec 19 '19 at 16:28
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    Perhaps we could collaborate to create ONE open letter and send it to each of the board members ONCE. That way it solves the "10th person..." issue. – user245382 Dec 19 '19 at 16:34
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    @House-'ReinstateMonica'-man - I like "collaborate" and I like "open letter." But when things are sooo stuck, a dialogue is generally needed. – aparente001 Dec 19 '19 at 16:37
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    @Lewis - Wait, are you saying that I am intentionally annoying someone? – aparente001 Dec 19 '19 at 16:38
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    @Lewis Using public contact information to contact someone to tell them something about an entity they are publicly involved with is not “intentionally annoying” them. I don’t have to be quiet because other people might be contacting the same people. Those other people don’t speak for me. If more people were bold enough to provide civil and thoughtful feedback to people with the power to affect things, the world would be a better place. – ColleenV Dec 19 '19 at 17:03
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    @ColleenVpartedways I quoted what you said, "but warning people away from annoying people with the power to change something". [emphasis mine]. Fundamentally, I somewhat agree with you. I just don't want the human aspect in this to get lost. – user377035 Dec 19 '19 at 17:04
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    Getting a single message from a large group is definitely more powerful than some messages from individuals, and less likely to be annoying. – Stop Harming the Community Dec 19 '19 at 17:15
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    I don’t understand why y’all think you have to be careful not to annoy people. Every day someone is annoyed by something. Usually getting annoyed is motivation to fix whatever is annoying you. It took me years to break the bad habit of not standing up for myself because I didn’t want to bother anyone, and it annoys me to see that same fear of engaging with another person because they’re too important to be troubled with one person’s opinion. I am confident that the professionals on the board can handle being contacted, and likely welcome sincere, civil feedback. – ColleenV Dec 19 '19 at 17:48
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    @ColleenVpartedways - Have you yourself tried yet? If you don't mind my asking. I believe in leaving no stone unturned, and this is a stone that just occurred to me today. – aparente001 Dec 19 '19 at 18:05
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    I still don’t see why you think that contacting board members is a “side-channel”. The board is exactly who needs to hear this stuff if someone feels that talking directly to company employees is unproductive. I don’t understand why you think I should have to get a group of people together that share my opinion before I can express it without being too bothersome. I am an educated, thoughtful, moral person and anyone that doesn’t appreciate my feedback as a customer about a company they’re invested in is unworthy of it (but I will grace them with it if I want to nonetheless ;)) – ColleenV Dec 19 '19 at 18:09
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    @ColleenVpartedways Because form matters. The job of a board member is to ensure that the company management acts in the long term interests of the owners and investors of that company. Sure, when you can come up with a rock solid message that gives good evidence why the current SE Inc. management decisions negatively affect the business, then chances are people will listen to you. If you don't have that, the message that actually gets over could be "pesky META people are now spreading their toxicity all over the place". So that board members get the idea ... – GhostCat Dec 19 '19 at 18:45
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    to agree with SE Inc. management that META is a useless place, and that the company acts quickly with all that loop stuff, so that they get feedback from their, so that META can be safely ignored in the future, or closed down altogether. Make no mistake, individuals speaking up to board members can easily be seen as "typical community members". Are you up to that? – GhostCat Dec 19 '19 at 18:46
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    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica If Meta can be killed by me writing a polite letter to a board member expressing my opinion about issues I think merit their attention, it deserves to die. It’s not good to become so attached to something outside your control that you’re afraid to express yourself for fear of losing it. Meta is going to go away at some point, because all things end eventually. Regardless, I am neither toxic nor typical. I do what I think is right and favor honesty and transparency over not rocking the boat because I have faith people can handle it. I rarely regret it. – ColleenV Dec 19 '19 at 20:21
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It is the job of the Board of Directors to make sure that the company is going in the right direction and to evaluate the performance of its officers from an outside perspective. They cannot do that without accurate information, and there is no reason to assume that all of them are aware of the recent problems, and if they are, if they get all of their information from the company it has certainly gone through enough filters that they wouldn't be getting an unbiased view.

It's very appropriate for them to be informed of their company's actions. It's also not too rare in the United States for people who want a company to change behavior to contact the Board of Directors, and to even try to get changes onto shareholder ballots.

UPDATE
Anil Dash is aware of what has been going on, since he is a Meta reader(!), but he doesn't say whether other members of the board are aware. Reading between the lines, it sounds likely that they are, at least to some extent.

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Encouraged by "I'm fine for people to contact me (I'm anil@glitch.com)," I emailed Anil on Sunday, January 19, with an opinion and some questions. (I was waiting until we were past the December break, and past the period of getting back to normal after the break.)

It's now January 27, and I've had no reply. I haven't given up hope -- but it's discouraging.

I have had a response. And Anil said that other SE participants have also corresponded with him too.

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    Sorry, it took me a while — check your inbox! – anildash Jan 28 at 4:37
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To answer the question somewhat indirectly: before approaching any of those board members it might be useful to know how they think.

I just stumbled upon this quotation:

The current business model is recipe for failure. That's the conclusion of Peter Levine, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that backed Facebook, Skype, Twitter and Box as startups.....Levine says the conventional open source business model is flawed: Open source companies that charge for maintenance, support, warranties and indemnities for an application or operating system that is available for free simply can't generate enough revenue.

Via http://marktarver.com/thecathedralandthebizarre.html

StackExchange does not run on open source but it is a network of open content sites, so the same considerations apply to the licensing of the content. If you are the kind of person who thinks something is not worth much unless you have exclusive control on it, you might also think that the content of SE sites is not worth much for the company.

SE Inc. is arguably a software company, first of all. All the more so now that its chief business goal appears to be the licensing and hosting of its proprietary software to companies. So it's relevant where board member Levine downplays "maintenance, support, warranties and indemnities", because it tells you what they may think is the key to success for the company in this market: not support to groups wishing to run a knowledge base, but something else.

I stress both points because in my opinion they are highly questionable. If they made a mistake here, then their entire strategy crumbles. (My personal opinion in the comments.)

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    Interesting but can you add a bit of context about what this means for these sites? E.g. Is the person quoted a major SO investor? How does the "open source business model" described (which appears to be selling "services and support", like RHEL?) relate to these sites? – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 17 at 21:28
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    @user56reinstatemonica8 Levine is mentioned in the question. – Nemo Feb 17 at 21:29
  • By any chance did Peter Levine in that article also say what a more successfully open source business model would be? – Trilarion Feb 17 at 21:36
  • @Trilarion He says that on his blog, no need to look for quotes in a third party article: a16z.com/2019/10/04/commercializing-open-source . – Emil Jeřábek Feb 17 at 22:00
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    @EmilJeřábeksupportsMonica Have looked at the presentation. Makes sense, however not clear what it means for this company. The company sells proprietary software and keeps up a public, open content, knowledge base. It's not really clear, how and if they could rent out the public part as a service?? – Trilarion Feb 17 at 22:11
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    SE software isn't open source -- SE can charge a license fee to companies which want to use or run an instance of it. – ChrisW Feb 18 at 1:02
  • @Trilarion They do rent the software out as a service. That’s Teams. – Emil Jeřábek Feb 18 at 7:46
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    Having said that, SE is not and never was an open source software company, hence I, too, fail to see how all this is relevant to the question at hand. – Emil Jeřábek Feb 18 at 8:03
  • @EmilJeřábek3.0 I've expanded the answer to clarify. My personal opinion is that they're very wrong. SE's software is not worth much, because it has innumerable competitors in the same or very similar markets: there's plenty of software for Q&A, KB, wikis, customer support. They can try to be the next Atlassian, Salesforce or even Freshdesk, but that feels a bit of a waste to me. The value of SE Inc. is the experience in running such a wide community and in steering such a big amount of content. Or at least it was before they fired all the community-clueful folks. – Nemo Feb 21 at 7:21
  • Apparently the facts are proving you wrong -- meta.stackexchange.com/a/343557/139866 – ChrisW Feb 21 at 10:07
  • @ChrisW what was proven wrong exactly? – Nemo Feb 26 at 9:03
  • Jon just wrote about a point I was "They never seemed to understand that the software was the easy part and community is the real selling point." I hope the board members understand too... – Nemo Feb 26 at 9:04
  • @Nemo The theory that "SE's software is not worth much, because etc." seems to me disproved by SE's revenue from Teams software licences. – ChrisW Feb 26 at 9:09
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This is not intended to fully answer this question. It would be far too long for a single comment. I'm putting my response in an answer here as replying in the comments is leading to a lengthy chain.


Contacting investors/directors directly may be a bad idea. It may even be considered by some as harassment. Why? Let's try and look at it this way;

By definition, in this question, there have already been 5 attempts to establish dialog

  • Meta
  • A Petition
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Contact Form

If these don't make it far enough up the chain to be seen by the investors/directors, this is likely by design. They either don't want to see it, or they can't do anything about it if they do (consider they may just be financial backers). Even if they can, it's likely that it would take more than one. Circumventing this by contacting them directly when it hasn't been requested is unsolicited contact.

Aside from the above, what impact do you suppose this would have? If the 5 previous attempts have been ignored / not answered to satisfaction, there isn't likely to be a more favorable outcome contacting them directly.


Edited to reduce the accusatory tone and to make it clearer that this is not a direct answer, nor am I trying to warn people away. The intention behind this answer is remind people to think before acting.

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    Just because a company has designed processes to direct critical commentary away from their investors doesn’t make it unethical to bypass those processes and use publicly available information to communicate grievances to them. The content of that communication could go either way, but the act of contacting them as an individual who has not been told to desist is not inherently bad or harassment. – ColleenV Dec 19 '19 at 16:07

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