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Preface

I'm a newer contributor, but a long time visitor. As a result, my view is more of an outsider's view. Take my points with that in mind.


Stack Exchange appeared to flourish under the direction of meaningful development guided by community feedback. Community elected moderators were the bridge between the user base at large and the community managers. Those community managers then relayed the feedback we gave to the development teams, who tried their best to ensure a smooth user experience.

All was (relatively) well.

Now, however, it seems as though we're stepping backwards. Leaping backwards, almost.

With the recent departure of two monumental community managers with next to NO warning, and a rather disastrous series of events, Stack Exchange is demonstrating to me that transparency is a thing of the past... And I feel absolutely helpless as I watch it fade into the night.

We've tried giving feedback on what we would like to see from The Loop, which was meant to be a "foundation in listening."

Yet I, and I'm sure many others, feel woefully ignored.

We've tried writing open letters from general users, and we've tried writing another letter specifically from community elected moderators - who, with power users, are the pillars of the community.

Yet the response is not detailed enough to address close to the number of concerns that have been raised.

All of these questions, all of this feedback, and yet I, like many others, are still under the impression that the response is hollow.

I want to be useful. I want to contribute meaningfully to the site that has helped me in many times of intellectual need when I was a silent reader. The recent changes have me very worried for the future of the community here.

While it feels to me as though we've very clearly placed the ball in their court... My question/discussion topic is, simply:

What more can we do? What more can I do?

  • 46
    I wish I knew. I've been in SE as a contributor for years and I feel as lost as you do – Journeyman Geek Jan 14 at 1:02
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    I'm glad my newer status is not holding me back, if someone of your history feels the same way. – Spevacus Jan 14 at 1:03
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    It’s time to vote with your feet. – George Stocker Jan 14 at 1:06
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    Controversial opinion: The moderation team wasn't handling the big incidents very well whatsoever. All sides of the equation have made the entire site collectively awful. Paired with the incredibly low quality of new content and... strange shift of the Company's involvement with the community, I think we're very well witnessing the end of SE. – Qix - MONICA WAS MISTREATED Jan 14 at 1:10
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    The only real, actual leverage we have is to contribute or not contribute our writings. So, if you don't feel like they're being used for a good purpose, I would recommend you stop contributing them. – jscs Jan 14 at 1:17
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    It's a lost cause. We just have to be patient and wait for the open source alternatives to launch. – Lundin Jan 14 at 7:43
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    Just for the record: I totally share your feelings. Talking in "non violent communication" terms, I noticed that I engage heavily in "wolf talk" lately, when thinking about SE Inc. And you know what? I don't bother the slightest bit about that. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Jan 14 at 9:05
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    @Ghost What is "wolf talk"? I've Googled it but to no avail. – Rand al'Thor Jan 14 at 9:39
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    @Randal'Thor When you turn to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication you will see late M. Rosenberg sitting there, with two puppets. One is a giraffe, that is the kind emotional one, the one that always tries to listen and understand. The other guy is the wolf. And that character is well, not at all like that. The wolf judges, and blames, and is generally speaking, not very nice. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Jan 14 at 9:42
  • @GhostCatsalutesMonicaC. I understood both your answer and this explanation, no worries. – Spevacus Jan 14 at 13:02
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    @JourneymanGeek you personally can do a whole lot of things that none of us can. You could give resign your mod position - or at least, you could stop actively moderating anything that's not spam. Why the hell are you still donating free work for this company? – l4mpi Jan 14 at 16:14
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    @JourneymanGeek well, the more mods leave the more of an effect it will have. If no one is left to voluntarily moderate SE sites, they either have to hire people to do it, or face their sites being overrun by spam etc. Both are things that will have an impact on the company, unlike complaining on meta. – l4mpi Jan 14 at 16:20
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    Start a competitor. It's clear that SE is no longer willing to listen to its users. They've stubbornly committed to going down this route, come hell or high water. – user76284 Jan 14 at 22:33
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    @user253751 user76284 said "Start a competitor", and competitor has been started, and that's what I referenced to. Also, don't put the cart before the horse. I agree, we have no idea if it will succeed but only time will tell. – wha7ever Jan 16 at 14:27
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+50

Nothing. Not one thing.

We collected ideas up and down. Dozens of users (some of them being important contributors) went "on strike". Others changed nick names to create awareness. To a certain degree, protest was raised via other channels. Most importantly, plenty of elected moderators resigned or suspended their activities.

And the results? Nothing. Repeat: not one thing.

At least for me, trying to convince SE Inc of anything feels like trying to kick a dead horse. Futile, won't achieve anything.

The only meaningful things left: engage with the community for the sake of the community. And if contribution in terms of providing high quality Q&A content is your concern, then consider doing that in different places (like here, the first "community" that tries to leave this network for a better place).

Seriously, we have no power. The "best" I came up with lately: Facebook showed me ads for "StackOverflow for teams". I clicked some buttons and told Facebook that I never want to see ads from that company again. Wooow. I felt sooooo strong doing that ;-(

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    And it's really important to note that the stuff that's been going on since October -- or even in the last year -- is just the latest step in a long path in the same direction. We've been trying to help with the steering for yeeeeears. See especially What does our long term community need? – jscs Jan 14 at 1:44
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    Oh, and this one's important too: Dear Stack Overflow, we need to talk – jscs Jan 14 at 2:08
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    @jscs "I feel very hurt. I feel I, as a moderator, have been hung out to dry, that if somebody accuses me you’ll act publicly as if I must be guilty" - Monica Cellio, almost a year before she was demodded and smeared by SE – Jo King Jan 14 at 2:25
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    Go on a Twitter rant. – user651518 Jan 14 at 21:01
  • This wasn't an answer I was looking forward to accepting. All of the others offer their own takes, most of which are spot on, but this one's straight and to the point. – Spevacus Jan 14 at 22:33
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    @JL2210-SupportMonica I would, if that had any more effects. But I only have a handful of followers. But in case I ever become a famous influencer, I won't shy away about making my opinions about "that company" very public. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Jan 15 at 9:19
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    @Spevacus Rest assured, I don't like writing such answers either. But that is the thing: when you feel helpless, the most important thing is: express that. Otherwise, you get into a downward spiral. So, stepping back, and getting to a realistic assessment is key for our own mental health ... – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Jan 15 at 9:21
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It's strange how well the couples allegory works for me here: I've invested too much, even emotionally, here. I'm not ready to see it losing interest in me and telling me I don't matter anymore. But the thing is that it doesn't tell me directly, it spins around and hurts me, mining all of the relationship bit by bit. So in the end the best thing to do is what couples do in this situation.

Abandon SE and hope that the aggregated loss will be too much to ignore. If it doesn't work (and I strongly suspect it won't), I've got bad news for you: you are about to get a (sort of) heartbreak from a website. And as painful heartbreaks can be, the best thing to do is walk away and let time heal you. You won't get anything out of a toxic relationship but anger and pain.

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  • Also a kids allegory would work. Kids don't take much care about the needs of others. They still need to grow up and learn to make compromises and take into account the needs of others. Helping kids growing up means to speak openly and also to drawing boundaries and making clear what behavior is tolerable and what not. – Trilarion Jan 15 at 9:27
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TL;DR: don't bother.


From the very beginning of the crisis (with Monica, not talking about earlier events), I decided that I wasn't going to spend time trying to figure out ways to "help SE".

  1. I could tell anyone in advance that SE isn't going to listen to any such advice; it was clear to me.
  2. SE is not misguided. At this point it's clear to me the actions are result of a plan — a plan to keep SE alive and profitable, and they'll do anything to stick to the plan, no matter how difficult the decisions can be, or who gets hit by those decisions.

It is worth mentioning that I do also believe there are people who do care inside Stack Exchange, and who are truly sorry to see some of the results on those actions, e.g. Monica, Shog, and Robert leaving their positions of power. But they can't change what's done, nor can they affect future actions.

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    Change from on-high used to be something that was intended to be avoided if possible. Now, it seems to be the only way change occurs. – Spevacus Jan 14 at 13:34
  • "a plan to keep SE alive and profitable" I doubt that the plan is just that, b/c if that's the only premise then the entire pronoun debacle does not make any sense. But be that as it may, I have my doubts that the plan will work out in the end. I have seen too many communities wither and die under the onslaught of help vampires. – Ansgar Wiechers Jan 14 at 23:43
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    @AnsgarWiechers help vampires are the least of SO problems now. Bad management is. The pronoun project is no doubt something that came from the new CEO, who thought it's a way to paint SO in a new and inclusive colors, thus drawing more users, more views, and more money from ads. – Shadow Wizard is Ear For You Jan 15 at 7:12
  • Bad management is what allows help vampires in. But the help vampires are what drains the energy of the people who are contributing answers and makes them leave. And the pronoun shenanigans are part of the Welcome Wagon social justice agenda. Which AFAIR started well before there was a new CEO. – Ansgar Wiechers Jan 15 at 9:55
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What do you want to accomplish?

Do you want to contribute to a community? You can do that now, and the actions that have taken place over the last few months can be...largely ignored. Heck, most of Stack Overflow's contributors don't really know what happened here, and aren't that in-context to what's going on now.

Do you want to provide valuable feedback? That's a tougher thing to do. It's hard to actually provide actionable and meaningful feedback at times, but it can be done even if the process feels like you're calving a glacier.

Do you want to feel valued? This might be the toughest one of them all. We as a community build the network, but we don't pay for the systems or keep any of the lights on. Consequently, our seat at the table feels smaller.

Do you want to feel like you're engaging with the company? I'm not seeing a path forward on that one, since the days of interpersonal staff interactions are pretty much up. But my pessimism runneth over on this one, simply because what we once had we don't get anymore, and what we get in terms of company interaction feels less personable than what it used to be, or what we think it should be.

Do you want to be upset about what's happened? You can do that...but you're wasting your energy. Energy which may be better spent doing something of the above, or not on this list at all. Being upset isn't the key to being listened to.


Right now, I'm not sure what I want, and I don't know if there's anything I could do to "help" because I'm not entirely sure that "help" is the operative verb.

I wanted to participate, but I don't know if I want that. I can't be assured that it will bring value.

So...I think what I'll accomplish in these next few days is similar to what I did back in October. I'm not interested in starting new fires. We've got enough kerosene and matches floating around. But, what I want to know is what purpose putting fires out would actually serve. Sometimes, the best way to fix a long-standing problem with a process or a service is to make it painful enough to make someone - anyone want to take action.

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    I want to make this community a better place. I want to build what I originally joined this site to build: a community-led repository of high-quality answers to the long tail of [programming] questions. A place where content is king, quality standards exist and are enforced, and we all learn collaboratively from each other. How do I do that? I didn't see that listed above as an option. – Cody Gray Jan 14 at 3:04
  • What definition of "better place" were you gunning for? (In my head, in that context it leans more towards wanting to feel valued, since that kind of work can be - and often is - thankless.) If the community doesn't value the work that you do, you can't be certain that you were making it any better to begin with, which is an unfortunate circumstance... – Makoto Jan 14 at 3:50
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    We have to take seriously the idea that the Stack {Overflow,Exchange} we wish to build and participate in is no longer supported. – jscs Jan 14 at 5:56
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    Very helpful answer! "Being upset isn't the key to being listened to." Interestingly on Twitter and other places it kind of is. Often enough it looks a bit as if those who are more upset also get a bit more attention than those who are not. – Trilarion Jan 14 at 8:45
  • @Trilarion Twitter is the perfect soap box to shout from, it has a megaphone built-in. However whatever you manage to accomplish that way is exceptionally temporary as it will basically be a damage control response, not a rational response. Any changes made based on twitter-loudness are changes that will just as easily disappear again when the shouting has stopped. It's not the tool for the job to actually make a lasting difference. – Gimby Jan 14 at 10:04
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    @CodyGray "how do I do that?" - by leaving SE and building a new site that actually adheres to those goals. SE made it clear a while ago that they are not interested in question or answer quality as long as they are profitable. – l4mpi Jan 14 at 16:12
  • @l4mpi The thing is, question and answer quality is what makes SE profitable, because quality is what drives traffic. And more importantly, drives repeat traffic. So all these people decrying corporate greed and ascribing the missteps to a focus on “profitability” are altogether missing the point. To answer Makoto’s question, no, I care very little about feeling valued or recognized. That makes things a bit easier sometimes, but it’s not why I do it, and it has never been. Not here, or anywhere else I contribute. It’s about the results. High-quality Q&A, as explained in the first comment. – Cody Gray Jan 14 at 22:13
  • So you're contributing, @CodyGray. You can just...do that today. You don't have to pay attention to anything else going on to just provide quality answers to questions. The reason I still see this as wanting value or validation in some capacity is, at some layer, the community also includes the company in this mix as well, especially since Stack Overflow is the cash cow. I'll be fair and rephrase - if you were to continue contributing now, would you feel any different about doing so if the company changed how they valued the community? If they did, you might want validation. – Makoto Jan 14 at 22:50
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    We as a community build the network, but we don't pay for the systems or keep any of the lights on. The most prolific contributors in the community do keep the lights on, in that their continued expertise and willingness to answer questions (for free!) makes SE known as a place to get answers, resulting in more viewers, more askers, and more eyes to advertise SO Jobs and SO for Teams to. Without them, much traffic would eventually dry up. But despite that, contributors get no seat at the table. – Snow Jan 15 at 1:09
  • @Snow: If you could point to traffic data on Stack Overflow that could even make that assertion hold water, you would have a point. Unfortunately...I can see that the only dip in traffic since September would be around the holiday season, and has nothing to do with anything with the whole falling out of the company. The site's reached critical enough mass to basically regard this whole event as a rounding error. You may be lamenting the loss/death of its soul, rather than anything else, which is entirely true and entirely absent from site metrics. – Makoto Jan 15 at 4:01
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    Sure - the vast majority of contributors have not changed their habits. I'm not saying traffic has fallen. But the company does depend on the community to continue providing their free, expert help to the askers. – Snow Jan 15 at 4:55
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    @Snow: As a corollary, we here also depend on the community to care enough about these inner workings to influence or impact change with the company. Right now, we're not getting that. – Makoto Jan 15 at 16:31
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Let's use a "school with after-class activities" analogy. We've been going to this school for almost a decade. It's been rough at first, but then we all became good friends and learned a lot from each other and shared good memories together. Then the school board decided they want to focus on profits more than offering the best education and activity space for its public. It's bad for students, their parents, teachers, and everyone can see what's going on now.

What do you do when the school your kids go to turns bad? You take them to another school. What do you do when the bar you go to every Friday with your friends and colleagues turns sour? You take your friends and go to another bar together.

Ten years ago the Q&A site landscape became so bad, and it was so impossible to stay in the old places, that Stack Overflow was born. Look around to see if there is a better place to be today. If not, and you have the skills, maybe collect your friends and let's build a better place for us all. They'll be waiting for an invite :)

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You and I can't do anything. At one point I thought that pressuring through social networks may have an effect, but now it's absolutely clear it won't.

On the other hand, moderators and employees can do something. Stack Overflow Inc pretended to not notice 50 moderators resigning. It just wrote them off as if they never existed — decreased the stats and acted as if it always was this way. However, if 200 moderators and 20 employees decide to leave, the higher ups may start scratching their heads.

I doubt something like this will happen, but it's always a possibility. Things are escalating quickly. Way quicker than I expected.

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    Unless SO suddenly sees a million visit drop in its daily traffic, I doubt there will be an impact on the company’s direction (although I don’t doubt this has impacted some people at the company). The only solution when a relationship goes sour and the other party is not interested in fixing it is to let go and move on. Letting go is hard, but all things end, sometimes by evolving into something different. SE is evolving into something I don’t like, so I’m moving on. That isn’t going to stop the change and some will like the new SE, but neither affects what is best for me. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 14 at 15:10
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Sadly, I no longer believe that there is anything that us small time users can do; even the high rep users and moderators don't seem to have much impact.

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