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This post is addressed to the people who still believe they have a future at Stack Exchange, and who still hold out some hope that there can be a way out of this mess. If you have no such hope left, I can certainly understand that and don't begrudge you. I myself am not sure, but I feel compelled to try, at least.

What we've been doing clearly hasn't been working. Stack Exchange isn't interested in listening to meta feedback in the way it is currently addressed. Shog9 confirmed yesterday what I'd been suspecting for a while:

My former colleagues have an amazing skill: they are able to understand what people are trying to say. To read between the lines and see, not just what is written, but what is meant, what is felt. And to respond accordingly, with care and empathy. They can communicate.

And right now, they are being told not to use that skill. Told that they MUST not use that skill. I know this because I was told this. It has been ratcheting for over a year now: more and more "musts" and "must nots" - "say this AND ONLY THIS."

At this point, they are operating under an unbelievable amount of pressure. And you have seen the results of this: "they gulped out fine folly about dignity and acquiescence".

You may think, in expressing your anger, that your words will reach and influence those behind the scenes, those calling the shots, writing the words that MUST, eliding those that MUST NOT. But know that the influence takes only one form: yet another click of the ratchet.

Your anger will be held up as evidence of toxicity. Your frustration as evidence of noncooperation. Just as it has been for so many months past. My dear ex-colleagues will be blamed for failing to control you, and another rock will be laid on their backs.

Right now, what we're doing on meta is actively sabotaging our own goals. I know this is not fair, and I know that this situation is a kind of Kafkaesque trap, but if you're still here and still harbor some hope that the network, that our communities can still recover from this mess, it is time for a shift in strategy.

It seems evident that we have to make the first step here, or everything is just lost. It sucks that we got this far, and it sucks that they won't extend an olive branch on their own accord, but we have the truth in black and white now.

The only thing we're currently actually in control of is our reaction to this.

There are still employees in SE that believe in the people here, and we still have some support in the company. Right now, by acting out our (justified!) anger here, we're making their lives harder, and making their position harder to justify internally. If all this is anything more than an exercise in catharsis, we have to change our strategy. To that end, I would propose:

  1. Stop the angry rants on meta. It is natural to be angry, and lord knows we have plenty of reasons to. But it's also obvious that, not only is nobody that they're addressed to reading them, but they're actively undermining our position here. No senior manager at Stack Exchange Inc. (SEI) will be swayed by an angry rant, if they ever read the post at all.

  2. Engage with the feedback mechanisms they provide. This one is trickier, because you might think that they'll just ignore it. Truth is, they still might. But we don't know that for sure. We do know for sure that our current approach is being ignored. So in the absence of better approaches, this seems to be our best bet.

  3. Reward positive behavior. Right now employees who still dare to come to meta are super scarce. When they do, and when they engage with us here and act constructively, we need to encourage it. Negative reinforcement via sustained criticism has not worked out for us, in fact it has done the exact opposite. Everyone is human, and everyone has their breaking point. If we want to maintain any sort of relationship with the employees, we need to stop piling negativity that is not their fault (but the fault of management) onto the employees who still talk to us.

The most bitter pill to swallow

I know many of you have no hope left that anything can be salvaged, and I understand that feeling and am nearly there myself, then there is the most bitter pill to swallow. I know many of you still hold some employees and contributors in high regard, because they've been kind and professional in the face of all this. They're currently being hurt by our approach. It is clear to me from what Shog wrote, and from his plea for our assistance, that the pressure resulting from SEI's perception of our actions is almost unbearable.

I know it is incredibly unfair, and I know the onus should not be on us to control how a corporation perceives us.

I know none of us meant for this to happen, but it is happening. We know about it now, and all we can do at this time is control our response to it.

So, for all of you who have lost respect and faith in SEI leadership, but still have some faith left in the CM team I echo Shog's plea: Don't do this to those who remain. Like us, they didn't sign up for this. Like us, they've been mistreated badly by the company. But unlike us, they don't have the luxury of walking away. This is their livelihood.

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    My thougts exactly. I couldn't have wrotten this any better then you did. – Luuklag Jan 16 at 7:52
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    Employees and contributors are not being hurt by our approach. They're being hurt by the company they work for / contribute their time to. I will not accept being blamed for the repulsive actions of that company just because I state my mind about those actions. – Frédéric Hamidi Jan 16 at 8:17
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    "We have to make the first step here". You mean, like providing millions of helpful answers for free over more than a decade? – Eric Duminil Jan 16 at 8:19
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    @FrédéricHamidi Cause and effect are seperate from responsibility. It is my opinion that shog is correct, and that our actions have this effect. But the cause and responsibility is with the company. Still, knowing what we do now, we have the choice to make whether we want to keep doing it or whether we want to stop. – mag Jan 16 at 8:20
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    @EricDuminil I'm presupposing that people still care and want this site to recover, I can understand if you've reached your limit. It's not fair to expect you to make the first step, but life is full of unfairness. This post is an attempt to wring a path out of this from what we know. – mag Jan 16 at 8:22
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    If the company thinks that the job of community managers is to "control the community", then I can't help thinking it's already a lost cause. – Flyto Jan 16 at 9:47
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    "Engage with the feedback mechanisms they provide" - the only mechanism that elided a somewhat meaningful response from SE in the last months has been a lawsuit. Unless you're suggesting users should sue SE en masse, I'm not sure which feedback mechanisms you're talking about... – l4mpi Jan 16 at 10:28
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    @l4mpi They've been running surveys, interviewing people, and they apparently have another loop thing planned. My advice is to engage with that as it comes, and concentrate your best effort for feedback there. – mag Jan 16 at 10:35
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    @Magisch there is no way to interact with an interview unless you are chosen by SE to be interviewed, so that one's right out. As for the surveys, I interacted with the last "loop thing" but we have exactly zero ways to measure how this feedback is used (or if it is used at all and not just redirected to /dev/null). Given that SE has chosen to ignore the extremely valuable resource of feedback that is meta, I have very little hope that they will listen to anything sent on other channels unless it fits their agenda. – l4mpi Jan 16 at 11:06
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    @Magisch for all I know "the loop" doesn't exist and it's just one person making up whatever they want us to believe "the loop says". I have no way of knowing, and I have no trust left in me to believe it's real at this point. What I know is real is meta posts and employees tagging feature requests and bugs as fixed or implemented. This I see and can vote on. – user1306322 Jan 16 at 11:10
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    With all possible respect, I think this question might be a bit of an example of Stockholm syndrome. There is a conflict, one side feels powerless and in trying to understand the other side, basically gives itself up and embraces the views of the other side. I really think this is a last good faith attempt, kind of lets do all we can do, but it's also the wrong thing and doomed. Those who have hope must either stay strong or give in completely and do what the company wants them to do. Those who haven't must realize that going away is the only good option. Don't take part in playing games. – Trilarion Jan 16 at 11:28
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    @Magisch no, my only suggestion at this point is to leave for a better place, because in my view nothing else is as quick and effective or guaranteed to work. – user1306322 Jan 16 at 11:53
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    There is incredibly disappointing behaviour being exhibited at Stack Exchange by a crew, so preposterously arrogant they cannot comprehend they have made a series of egregiously awful mistakes and continue on that course of ruin - even as the entire ship breaks up around them. It takes courage to visibly demonstrate to everyone that you take responsibility for your mistakes by stepping down. It takes no courage to blithely continue navigating a ship into the maelstrom, refusing to countenance that you may have been blind to the stars and holding the chart upside down when you set the course. – Rounin Jan 16 at 16:55
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    @Magisch, does this change your mind? – Frédéric Hamidi Jan 16 at 21:05
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    @Trilarion: your comment reminds me that I have described SO, Inc. in terms of narcissism. You are describing a common pattern of victims of narcissistic abuse: "If I only do more, s/he will love me again." "If I just try one more time, s/he will see how much I am trying and come around." You are completely right that this does not work, because narcissists never change. Looks like this applies also to corporations. – Stephan Kolassa Feb 10 at 7:37

16 Answers 16

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You're wrong.

I sympathize with those working at SE who have no control over the apparent craziness that management at SE has become, but that doesn't mean users don't get to complain.

Engage with the feedback mechanisms they provide.

There are none. Meta was all we had as a feedback mechanism and it is being completely ignored by management.

They have ignored mass resignations (ongoing) by respected moderators who provide a huge amount of free labor to SE.

SE management is ignoring feedback in any form. Tell them to start listening.

Reward positive behavior.

We're not employing them. What the community regards as positive behavior was what Monica Cellio and Shog9 (and others) did. They have been punished by SE for that positive behavior.

It seems that SE management and the community have, in reality, diametrically opposed views on what "positive behavior" is.

No senior manager at SEI will be swayed by an angry rant, if they ever read the post at all.

So you are suggesting what? Give in and go along with the madness? That achieves what? We start telling them what they want to hear so they have no reason to change. How will that help? I don't see how it can.

But unlike us, they don't have the luxury of walking away. This is their livelihood.

This is not true. They can walk away, just as any employee can leave any employer. I've done it myself. I'm not encouraging this, but let's not try and guilt users into supporting bad management like this by a false argument like that.

What you describe as "rants" are a reaction to what I'd described as "rubbish" from management at SE that seems to tell us how rosy everything is and how there is no problem at all and that no mistakes are being made. And having read a lot of posts and responses, the so-called rants result in many, many posts that contain constructive and well thought out advice for fixing the problem.

There's only one group that can stop this: SE management.

How can they stop it: start acting rationally.

They run a community based enterprise. The new "Team" products depend on companies being encouraged to use the product and the existing community are the people who SE ought to be hoping to encourage that use in their workplaces.

But instead of engaging with that community who might promote their product, they're treating us like dirt that has served it's purpose and can be ignored now. People are (unsurprisingly) deserting the sinking ship and no one is going to be promoting SE Team products to their own employers when they have no faith in management at SE. Why would anyone promote a product from a company that ignores complaints from it's users ? I'm not going to be the employee who puts that proposal forward to my bosses. That's common sense.

SE is biting the hand that feeds it precisely when it ought to be begging its user base to promote it to their employers.

That's not going to happen as things stand, IMO.

That rank and file staff are in the firing line is unfortunate, but it's their choice to work at SE and they have the right to stay or move on - that's their choice and I wish them well either way. But users have the right to complain.

Frankly if an employee at a company behaving like SE posted a question on Workplace SE asking for advice, it would almost certainly be "polish up your CV and bail before you're axed". If SE has become a poisonous workplace, it's not the users who are to blame, it's the management. The normal advice to employees at a company with a poisonous internal culture is "leave on your own terms, not theirs".

That, from my point of view (on the outside, looking in) is SE as we start 2020. It brings me no joy to say it.

So you're wrong. We cannot fix what's wrong at SE, and the only hope it will get fixed is if people complain as much as possible. Silence will be treated as acceptance by management as SE. Only complaints stand a small chance of redirecting this train before it's a complete wreck.

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    I'm presupposing the frame that the users I address with this post still care about the network, and want to see it recover. I do not insinuate that it should be our responsibility to fix what management broke, nor do I place the blame for any of this on us. What I am saying though is that current approaches aren't working for what we want to do. "Tell them to start listening" and "SEI Management have to fix this" has been tried for 3 months straight. We have raged against the machine time and time again, and every time it has wrought more destruction. – mag Jan 16 at 9:36
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    And I'm not convinced that it's entirely too late. I understand if you are, but I think we may yet find a way out of this, even if we have to swallow our displeasure and the unfairness of it all. The question is do I care more about being right and fair or about this place recovering. I fall towards the latter, but I don't judge you if you don't. – mag Jan 16 at 9:38
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    Also, I detest "just find a new job". It's not that easy for most people. I can't in good conscience absolve myself of the effect my actions have on employees who mean me well because they could find a new job. I place the blame for what happened on management, but I cannot ignore the effecty my actions have, regardless of if that's fair or not. – mag Jan 16 at 9:39
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    @Magisch It's irrational to expect change when you don't complain. They're certainly not going to change for the better if no one complains. And please don't give the impression I said "just find a new job", I didn't say that. But it is a choice, not a nice one, but I didn't create this poisonous atmosphere at SE and only SE management can fix it. – StephenG Jan 16 at 9:43
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    That's why I suggest using the feedback mechanisms they provide. Take the surveys, respond to the feedback requests. If you're a mod, endeavour to join the mod council. Whatever the loop is going to be, participate. We can only hope to effect change if we are heard, and complaining on meta is having the exact opposite effect to getting heard, right now. – mag Jan 16 at 9:45
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    @Magisch: It depends. If the feedback mechanisms are rigged against us, boycott might be the least ineffective option. For example, unless the moderator council is elected, with only transparent & fair restrictions on who's eligible to stand & to vote, I'd urge people not to participate. There's no sense in legitimizing mechanisms that merely keep up the appearance of meaningful dialogue between the company & users. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Jan 16 at 11:25
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    "but that doesn't mean users don't get to complain" But it does mean that complaining is actively harmful and won't actually solve anything. So why do it? – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 at 11:55
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    @LightnessRacesBY-SA3.0 Actively harmful ? Unless people are making personal attacks I don't see how that's harmful. Staff being pressured from conditions of their management making is beyond our control. It's like saying we shouldn't complain ever to any company in case someone working there takes offense - ridiculous. P.S. I'm not a moderator on SE, but I have moderated for a large website - I've seen real abuse personally targeting me and I know the difference between complaints and abuse. – StephenG Jan 16 at 12:20
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    @StephenG No, it's like saying that standing in the shop front shouting the same things over and over at the staff for the entire day, is not going to yield the result you want, and is not going to help your message be heard in the way you want. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 at 12:56
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    @Magisch to add to your "I suggest using the feedback mechanisms they provide..." bit: if you're not a mod, consider running. We know there's hella-lotta elections gotta be coming down the pike. If you're really willing to work toward a better place, there will be spaces at the table. – nitsua60 Jan 17 at 2:53
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My dear ex-colleagues will be blamed for failing to control you, and another rock will be laid on their backs.

If so, then everything has been said. Then it is time for SE Inc. to just shut down all metas, and for us community members, to turn around, and never come back. And of course find out whether the dubious re-licensing that happened in 2019 gives each community member the legal ground to send in a DCMA request, asking for content to be deleted.

Huh, what is the cat talking about? About: failing to control you.

If SE Inc management (even remotely) thinks that the job of its employees is to control us, and worse, that we the community, better play with that, to prevent said employees to get into trouble, if that is all that is left, then nothing is left to further talk about. Because nobody who came here to contribute content and moderation work expects to be treated like a sheep that needs dogs controlling it.

But honestly: I actually trust those SE Inc. staffers we still interact with in that regard. When I read what Yaakov or others are saying, they want to work with us, not control us. Maybe the day comes when even that changes, but I don't think that we have reached such a low point.

And, as many others say: sure, there are upset people. But the discourse is still extremely polite in tone. Insults or name calling get singled out quickly, and sanctioned, too.

Meaning: anybody who thinks we have a "ranting" problem ... go visit Quora or Facebook or Reddit and remind yourself how "ordinary" Internet people "talk" to each other when ranting.

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  • The relation between a community and a company providing services around the community is probably really the key here. The company seems to think of users more like of a resource and the users seem to kind of expect a relation at equal eye level. What is actually possible and what is adequate and what went wrong? Maybe a question for philosophers, politicians or historians. – Trilarion Jan 16 at 14:22
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    @Trilarion And for those, who intend to establish viable alternatives, like codidact.com ... in order to repeat what happened here, the biggest problem is to invent a setup, right from the start, that results in a solid framework that defines the relationship between the content providers and the content hosters that gives both sides some sort of autonomy. – GhostCat Jan 16 at 14:27
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    Obviously I meant ... in order to not repeat what happened here ... – GhostCat Jan 16 at 14:51
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I still have (a bit of) hope, because hope dies last, but I also think that the proposed action here will not help at all and here is why:

  • There are not many rants as far as I can see. The moderation is very efficient in that regard and even does more than necessary at times. Meta is not toxic (on average) and never was. That's unfortunately more like a myth in my opinion. The downvotes are mostly just disagreement. We could stop displaying them below a certain threshold though, that would be fine by me. But in general, I'm impressed by the civility here. And we still have the "be nice" policy that in my regard still applies; always.
  • The Loop is rigged. It's nontransparent and doesn't allow for the back and forth discussion that's so valuable. The way it's conducted is not clear and oversight is missing. Anything can come out there and the trust of the company is low. Using it would mean legitimizing it. I don't want to be part of that now. Sorry.
  • We always rewarded positive behavior but lately there hasn't been much positive behavior. I wouldn't know what to reward right now.
  • Mature people would speak openly and make compromises, meaning that both have to make steps. If instead you double-back on your own beliefs and make steps unilaterally, it just means you are completely in the hands of the other party. If the other party is not benevolent (and it doesn't look like it is) it will exploit this incongruity of power and abuse the relationship. Before you can think twice, you just do what others want. Don't do that.
  • Signalling that the community is ready to compromise is nice, but isn't this clear already? This is not the first question that asks what else can be done. It's also not the last. We are signalling all the time.
  • The mature way is being open and clear, arguing about positions and then seeing what compromises are possible. And if none are possible, get over it and move on.
  • My little hope left is that the company sees reason and we both can make steps towards each other. I want to wait a bit more for it to happen, but not much. And this I will do with all the courtesy that is possible. One should not mix disagreement with impoliteness. In the end, if the goals of the company and my own goals cannot be reconciled, I will just go somewhere else. I think this is the only civilized way to solve the conflict.
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    The brand-new timeline feature is nice. I would like to reward it. But then Shog did it to a large extent. Shog is not part of the company anymore. Means that there is nobody to reward to really. :/ – Trilarion Jan 16 at 14:05
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    Yes, on all points.... except maybe the last one. I think SE as we know it is dead and it is as-designed. From my POV company is shooting themselves in the head (they have already done so much foot shooting, they don't have any feet left) but by the time they may realize it, it will probably be too late... this is just nature of venture capital... the price is your first born. VC does not care what they can destroy on the way, as long as they can earn money in the process. – Resistance Is Futile Jan 16 at 15:37
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    Another recent example is the forced limitation of featured moderator resignations to a relatively short time period. The company is using its power to protect its interests (so far so good) but is not considerate of what the community likes to feature and for how long. Doing what this question proposes would change absolutely nothing about it. – Trilarion Jan 17 at 10:02
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Yeah, no ...

this is not sad denial anymore; it is just sad stupid at this point.

I deleted all 69 accounts on all sites because the company blamed the community that contributed all their content for 10 years (me and you) for the "perception" that Stack Overflow had of being "unwelcoming" whatever that means. It still has never been specifically defined, in spite of the fact that the millions of hits a day, the endless stream of questions were getting larger not smaller contradicted this "unwelcoming narrative".

If their "unwelcoming" narrative was actually factual and true, the number of people asking questions would be dropping, instead it is going up and the quality is not even dropping anymore, it hit bottom a long time ago.

I quit because I came to the conclusion that my contribution here was enabling them and my huge amount of "rep" on the site lumped me into the "unwelcoming veterans" that they demonized by their silence at first and then directly with their blog posts and retweeting of toxic accusations of random Twitter users.

I created a throw away account just to respond to this, I have been watching the dumpster fire engulf good people, and by Internet standards "saints", with popcorn and a train wreck fascination.

Wake up. They said you are the problem, and they continue to say you are the problem because they say the current situation is your fault because you drove them to this action with your "unwelcoming" behavior that a couple of random Twitter twits tweeted their internalization of their own victim mentality.

This proposal is just perpetuating and promoting that they were correct, which is empirically factually incorrect. Their propaganda against those of us that made the company what it is today with our contributions are evil, ****phobes and misanthropes is categorically insane to accept.

How can people that dedicated hundreds and thousands of hours of free support, guidance and knowledge be that terrible and evil? They can not be and are not. It is completely illogical and plain out gaslighting propaganda to placate someone/group that is secret.

If you are going to "be quiet" then just delete all your accounts!

That is the only way "silence" will convey the correct message.

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...No. When you have a product or service that you paid for, and it doesn't work, you call tech support.

If you're angry, then the tech support will get an earful from you. Are they accountable for the product being broken? Of course not. Does that mean you should just fix it yourself? Of course not.

They're the interface between the company and the customer, and if you have complaints, that's the direction where you can aim them.

Because, let's face it, people work for a company because they're paid. Sure, they might choose one company instead of the other because of other things, but in the end if the company I work for suddenly told me they'd not pay my salary anymore, I'd leave them, no matter how much I like it here.

The point being: if you're being paid to do a job, you do it. The job sucks? I get it, I've been there, but you do it anyway.

Telling customers (yes, we are customers and we pay with our time spent here) that it's their approach that's ruining things is just not acceptable. Do you remember the "You're holding it wrong" thing? That's what you're saying.

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    I'm not making a moral judgement on anyone. I'm presupposing the frame that people who will read and take this to heart are those who are passionate about this place, and who still want to see it recover. I understand that it's unfair (and state as much) and I understand if you can't accept it. This post can be seen as my best last effort to wring a path forward from the mess. – mag Jan 16 at 8:24
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    Actually yes, you're making a moral judgment whether you realize it or not. You're telling people their behaviour is wrong and you're telling them how they should behave. It doesn't get much more judgmental than that. – ChatterOne Jan 16 at 8:42
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    I'm analyzing a situation and recommending an approach to better achieve a desired result. At multiple points throughout, I state that I fully understand why people do as they do. I'm assuming because it is new information that a lot of people simply aren't aware how their actions are percieved by SEI management and what effects they have (note that I place the blame for that firmly on SEI management). I also assume that people who want to see this place recover care more about that then about the inherent unfairness of the situation. – mag Jan 16 at 8:47
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    @ChatterOne What I get from Shog tweet is that the whole CM team will get fired by SE if ranting continue on meta because "they can not control us" while being tied by what they can say by SE. Roughly: the onus is on us to behave irreproachably so we don't give a reason to SE Inc. to get rid of the community part . To get with your tech support analogy: how would you react if you know the tech support person get fired because they wasn't able to avoid you shouting ? – Tensibai Jan 16 at 8:47
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    You're telling people their behaviour is wrong isn't how @Magisch came across to me. There is a nuance between wrong and won't achieve the outcome that you want or is conducive to an outcome you don't want and I feel that the OP hits the latter, rather than the former. By all means disagree with the OP but know this, if the quoted text from Shog9 accurately describes reality (and I truly believe it does at this point based on observing SE and Meta over the past while) then following the current "aggressive" approach on meta will be a self-fulfilling prophecy :-/ – Rob Jan 16 at 8:48
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    @ChatterOne Magisch absolutely did not tell anyone what to do! Nor did he judge, hell, you think he feels any different than what you describe? His point was that much of our behavior is not working, not that it is wrong. I don't know that I agree with this proposal either, but it is most certainly not Magisch "telling me what to do" or "judging me". Please reread the post if that's the impression you're getting. – terdon Jan 16 at 9:25
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    "If you're angry, then the tech support will get an earful from you." They shouldn't. If you do that, please stop. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 at 11:54
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    @LightnessRacesBY-SA3.0 Umm, why exactly should they stop? "Tech support" is literally paid for listening to customer complaints (among other things). – S.D. Jan 16 at 13:39
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    @S.D. Making a complaint is one thing. Forcing some poor front-line telephone operator to "get an earful from you" is quite another. It's not their fault. You have no right to abuse them like that. If you're angry, step outside, go for a walk, talk to your dog, until you calm down; then do the "engage with human beings" thing. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 at 13:43
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    @LightnessRacesBY-SA3.0 "You have no right to abuse them like that." Citation needed. And if just hearing a dissatisfied customer shouting classifies as "abuse" for you (and more so, when you're getting paid a salary!), you haven't seen real abuse yet. Please don't throw around the word "abuse" like that. – S.D. Jan 16 at 13:59
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    @S.D. I'm sorry, you think that shouting at an employee because you are dissatisfied isn't abuse?, and that somehow "abuse" is limited to just whatever parameter you get to define ("real abuse")? – Lamak Jan 16 at 14:04
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    @Lamak 1. Right. 2. You may use whatever definition of "abuse" you want, but diluting its meaning isn't helping your case. If your employees can't tolerate a bit of shouting from customers, get some tougher employees. – S.D. Jan 16 at 14:11
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    @S.D. yeah, I'll use the definition that the dictionary has about verbal abuse – Lamak Jan 16 at 14:20
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    @S.D. Citation needed for the claim "you have no right to abuse" a person? Sorry, I really can't help you. You're beyond saving. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 at 14:37
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    To me the dispute in these comments is mostly misunderstanding, wording and where to draw the line. Complaining to customer service is fine per se because that is the function of customer service but you have to stay civil at all times. Problem is that different people have different standards. Coming back to here: Meta is not toxic. Whoever invented that did strongly exaggerate in my opinion. – Trilarion Jan 16 at 19:11
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The only thing we're currently actually in control of is our reaction to this.

Our reaction is being controlled. If we get angry, we are toxic. If we don't show anger, Stack Exchange believes they've solved their problem. At that point, there is no way for the community to make their voices heard on this platform, unless it's praising the company.

I very much disagree with all three of your proposals.

  1. Angry rants. Constructive rants. Righteous indignation. Well thought out arguments. All of these have been ignored. This goes back further than September 2019. This goes back years and years. Stack Exchange, outside of the community management team, took a giant step back many years ago and let us run ourselves. We had the CMs around as a guiding hand, but effectively, the "built and run by you" part of the tour (second sentence) held up. Then the company came back to the table, saw all the nice sand castles we'd built and wanted to make them better. Except they showed up with something other than sand and chiseled away at the communities we've been building. They got upset that we were upset...after all, we're in their sandbox. Decorum spiraled from there. At this point, we are past being able to criticize the company. If something reflects badly on Stack Exchange, they don't want to see it any longer. For this reason alone, Meta is on its last legs.
  2. Feedback mechanisms that are provided include meta. They also include occasional video chats. I'll give you one guess which former employee was a member of most of the ones I attended. Feedback channels also include chat rooms, moderator chat rooms and a Moderator Teams site. I've seen feedback in all of those. They are ignored. Or worse, acknowledged and given a pat on the head, then ignored.
  3. Rewarding positive behavior is good, but it shouldn't be done to the exclusion of calling out things we don't like. Employees are worried about coming here. I'm not entirely sure why. I mean, every official, publicly posted thing done in the last few months has been a giant legal blob of nothing. The actions we've seen don't align with the words and values preached. I am more than willing to talk with employees (and frequently do), but that can't erase the pattern of behavior we've all seen. Promises to work on a task. Updates to a project that is then canceled. Beta periods of features that never get implements. Removal of site customization and uniqueness. Words matter, but not as much as the actions. Stack Exchange either is not telling the employees that come to the site and engage with us what is actually happening, is promising way more than it can deliver, or just doesn't respect the community and thinks we will say nothing.

I have complaints about Stack Exchange. I am, currently, free to express them here. When I don't have that freedom, I won't be here any more and will express them much more forcefully elsewhere.


I propose an alternative strategy to getting through this:

  1. Bring the new CEO forward on Meta to answer questions from the community. I have not seen anything from the CEO since they started in October. At least, not on Stack Exchange. I've seen a fair number of reports in the press about them. Come forward with your thoughts and present them to the community. Defend them to the community. Present your roadmap for Q&A, Teams, Jobs and anything else that impacts everything we do.
  2. Stop saying "legal action" and providing lawyered language for the CM team to parrot back to us. Someone who is actually giving the orders needs to come forward and say it themselves or it needs to stop. The community can smell it from a mile away and every time it's posted another round of this begins. So, let the people you pay to manage the community actually do their job. They are here to build bridges and support our growth. You are crippling that. The distrust you've built up is very rapidly making this a situation that can't be resolved in a way that keeps the meta community around.
  3. Select a project or two the community really wants to be completed and complete it. Rebuild some of that lost goodwill. There have been plenty of betas, announced projects, half demos, collaborations and "good ideas" over the last decade to write a book. Pick something that is feasible, non-trivial, and is wanted. Work from there. Knock a few of these out and watch that support rebound.
  4. Stop issuing edicts without justification or further communication. Just stop. I, as a moderator, am not going to be the next person to parrot your words.
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    I don't disagree with any of your suggestions. I just don't think they'll happen. At this point, they won't give us even an inch. We have nothing left to lose or gain besides our reactions. What else can we actually do? 40+ moderators resigned in the wake of the monica situation, and meta, the mod room and the mod team have been on fire for several months in a row. Yet, nothing changed. Worse yet, things changed for the worse. How would you propose getting any of your 4 suggestions done? – mag Jan 16 at 18:33
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    1. Add time to the calendar dedicated to answering questions. 2. Upper managers need to relay the message not the CMs. Make this a business policy. Let the CMs manage the communities. 3. Pick a project. Plan the work load. Do the work. 4. At the very least, who ever does #2, needs to be able to answer follow up questions. – Andy Jan 16 at 18:38
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    I don't mean how to do it. I mean how will SE management agree to that. They clearly see us as toxic and problematic. They would probably rather resign then to work with us on anything. I don't think shog was lying in his long twitter thread. Given the utter lack of cooperation from management, what can we do? – mag Jan 16 at 18:41
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    Trust us. We've been asked to trust the company. Trust is a two way street. Set expectations for the conversation - "We'll be talking about the roadmap" or "We'll be talking about Q&A on the roadmap" - and then stick to that. – Andy Jan 16 at 18:50
  • @Andy I don't think managers will ever do #2. They hire CMs for that. No? – EMBarbosa Jan 16 at 19:11
  • That's my point @EMBarbosa. That needs to stop. It's preventing CMs from managing the community and helping it grow. – Andy Jan 16 at 20:15
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    This is what I was talking about The Stack Overflow community and moderation and were promised one thing and had Hot Meta Topics taken away so we could manage it. Now, if the post isn't something SO likes, it's not up to the mods or the community any longer. Actions are louder than words. – Andy Jan 16 at 21:23
29

I echo Shog's plea: Don't do this to those who remain. Like us, they didn't sign up for this. Like us, they've been mistreated badly by the company. [emphasis mine]

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Shog, and his plea tugs at my heartstrings, but I'm afraid this is bogus. It is casting us in a pathological triangular relationship that we absolutely do not fit in. We cannot be rescuers here. We are not "do[ing] this to [them]". We do not have the power to cause or to prevent any abuse that is being inflicted, and we should not act as if we do. That delusion will only cause more hurt.

I will not accept blame for another person misinterpreting my words and using that to justify hurting a third person. I will do what I can to help -- and sure, one thing that can help is doing my best to prevent misinterpretation. But accepting the premise that "you're making me abuse ${PERSON}" only strengthens the abuser, and I won't.

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27

There are two emotional responses fighting in me:

being passive aggressive or being aggressively passive


Personally I have given up on Stack Exchange Company. It becomes more and more apparent that they just don’t see us as a main asset that needs maintenance and grooming.

I still think that we should provide feedback here — not for SE, but for any project that will fill our needs to learn from SE's mistakes. Of course we can try to police the tone of our feedback — and we should, as it might make the days of those employees still visiting meta less horrible.

But make no mistake: talking more carefully and nicer will not change anything about our situation. This community is in the midst of being lobotomized.

I will use SO as a working tool for the foreseeable future, just out of necessity. But I am prepared to abandon ship as soon as real community-driven projects will emerge out of this mess.

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26

A lot of people are saying here that it's not fair to expect us to be reasonable and calm when we've been faced with utter disrespect and contempt.

I agree. It's not fair. It is totally unreasonable and unfair to expect that a crowd of people who have been ignored, called names, and treated with contempt will treat the people who have given them this treatment with respect and a calm demeanor.

But if we want to have any chance at all... any chance of regaining a smidgen of what we've lost... we have to try.

It's totally unfair to ask this of people, but I'm asking anyway. SE holds all the cards. We have no real power. We're being ignored and tossed out.

When someone is being ignored, sure, shouting and screaming will get attention. But it will only lead to them being removed from the premises.

Since we collectively would not like to be removed from the premises, so to speak, we need to swallow our pride and remain calm. Not shout, no matter how deserving they may be of it. While it's tempting to spit in someone's face, and they may totally deserve it, it's not going to improve things.

Yes, I know, we've tried this in the past. But now... we have nothing left to lose.

Shouting and screaming is not going to get Shog and Robert back. It's not going to solve the ongoing issues. It's only going to get the people still there in more trouble.

Catija, Tim, JNat, Jon, and all the rest deserve better than that.

It's time to show SE management that we are capable of not being a screaming mob. We need to be an orderly delegation. Because the only thing a screaming mob is going to do right now is hurt people that don't deserve it.

I don't like it. It's unreasonable and unfair and a slap in the face to ask the community to be nicer after the way they've been treated. But it's the only way to protect the people who need it right now.

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    "We have already lost so many soldiers to the enemy. We must stop resisting them and maybe they will see reason and not kill us all." – user253751 Jan 16 at 10:34
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    @user253751 - There's a local story about a guy who was trapped in a bunker with a bunch of other people. Everyone else had already been killed, and the enemy soldiers had just found the bunker. This man left the bunker, telling them "I'm the last one, you've killed everyone else". They took him alive and left. The other people in the bunker were saved. There does come a time when surrendering and using other means is the right course of action. A well-timed surrender can save hundreds of lives. But that doesn't mean that the fight isn't continuing in other ways. – Mithical Jan 16 at 10:39
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    Nah, the fight will not continue. The current outrage on Meta is the only outrage. – user253751 Jan 16 at 10:45
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    Accountants gonna account. The "library of knowledge" is built for the most part, they no longer need content creators. So, sure, be nice to Jon, Tim, JNat, etc. because that is what is ethically demanded of us. However, make no mistake, this is just a cash grab now. – Travis J Jan 16 at 18:26
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    I don't disagree with you about the impoverished mentality of accountants, but it surely can't be the case that the library of knowledge is built? In the 2020s there will be new languages, new frameworks, new devices to write software for, growth in AI, VR and AR, new political trends, new social trends, new economic trends, new literature, new films, new popular philosophies, new perspectives... How different the world looks in 2020 compared to 2010. How entirely alien it is from the world of 2000. Change between 2020 and 2030 will not slow. – Rounin Jan 16 at 18:47
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    It's ironic that the issue 'the company not listening to the community' is 'gonna be solved by the community being silent' (maybe you mean it more nuanced and you want to say to be less 'violent' which is not the same as entirely shutting up, some more specific examples would be nice to make it more clear what exactly is meant with 'reasonable and calm'). I would like to believe it, but I can not believe it, that stop talking (shouting?) about the issues is gonna be better. You state how talking/shouting can be detrimental, but on the other hand you provide nothing how silence will be better. – Sextus Empiricus Jan 17 at 12:40
17

A famous saying is Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results. This saying's core concept makes a lot sense, at least to me.

Like many (I believe most) of you, I'm not happy with what has been happening here recently, especially over the last 5 or so months. I don't really know what, if anything, we can do to change it. However, it seems quite clear to me that our current approach is not working very well (actually, it's basically not working at all). My interpretation of Shog's blog post is that what we've been doing has actually mostly had the opposite effect of what we want to achieve! For example, it's put more pressure on people, like Shog, who are (or were) in the best position to possibly work with & help us to achieve what we mutually want.

I understand & agree this is not fair or reasonable. Also, the only responsibility I assign for this situation is to the SE management people who have been involved with causing what we're not happy about. Nonetheless, logically, if we care about the SE site(s) we're involved in, believe what the company is doing is not in the best interest of not only us, but also the general SE community and the company's long term interest, then what should we do?

If we keep doing what we have been doing, is it reasonable to expect to somehow get different results than what have occurred? If you believe it's not reasonable then, regardless of how illogical or unnecessary it may seem, I suggest we consider alternative approaches. Offhand, I don't have any ones in particular to offer myself, apart from that you think about what the OP has suggested (note I'm not yet sure which ones, if any, would work best, but they mostly seem like reasonable ideas to me). I will update this post or write a new answer if I come up with any possibly useful suggestions myself.

I, at least, will consider what I can do myself to achieve what I want, regardless of to what extent I feel I should be doing something else instead. It most definitely might end up being basically a waste of my time, but at least I would have more hope that my actions will, even if only in some very small way, help lead to positive changes occurring.

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No, you are wrong.

Stack Exchange Inc. is toxic. This is obvious by now.

I will not accept any blame for the abuse that Stack Exchange Inc. is bringing on its employees. That's the sole responsibility of the Stack Exchange Inc. management!

Is the solution to not anger them, so they don't abuse their employees that much?

No! The solution for the abused employees is to find an non abusive employer. If you work for Stack Exchange Inc., polish your resume, start looking for better jobs. Leave the sinking ship before it takes you with it to the bottom.

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Meh, this is just a money based approach now. Fighting it is a losing battle.

Just wait til the exchanges that don't produce ad revenue, private teams revenue, or jobs revenue all get shut down ;)

We must be nice to those in our community - and of course that includes the current set of CM's and to be honest most (clearly not all) SE employees - but that has always been the case.

Be good to each other, and enjoy it while it lasts.

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11

Right. Of course it takes quite a lot of courage to say "Dear Company, we still think you're running the place all wrong, but we're still going to put up with it anyway, because there's no better option. As long as some people on the staff consider the opinions of the community valuable, there's still hope that things will improve in the future. And as the community, we can still pull the plug any time we want to."

However, the only alternative is to stick to the current trench warfare, which will inevitably lead to the following:

  • The leadership of the company will keep ignoring the "toxic" community.
  • Those staffers who cared for the community will find themselves in an environment which permanently disagrees with their views, will be unable to change anything and will gradually get fed up and leave (or be shown the door for "not being aligned with company values").
  • Valuable contributors will gradually leave the community, which will gradually fall apart.
  • The company eventually goes under, taking the whole network with it.

See? Even if the community is right in the end, the SE network still dies. Millions (or billions?) of hours invested by the community go poof. (Yes, everything is CC, but does anyone really think you can fund a SE clone with the volume of traffic it gets?)

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    The result is exactly the same if people just "put up with it". The current company direction leads/led to the points you mention, the community accepting it won't change anything. – sth Jan 16 at 10:42
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    The other alternative is: vote with your feet. – user253751 Jan 16 at 10:47
  • @user253751 That's exactly "leaving the community" so that it falls apart in the end, isn't it? – TooTea Jan 16 at 11:24
  • @sth Sure, nothing will change for now, but there's hope that the management five years down the line will pay more attention to the well-being of the community. The community just needs to survive until then. – TooTea Jan 16 at 11:28
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    @TooTea If the community has proven they will stick around regardless of what management does, why would they change anything? They are then free to do whatever makes the most profit. – user253751 Jan 16 at 11:31
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    @user253751 That's the point of this whole question, isn't it? They're free to do whatever they want anyway (they're the management). The question is whether the community responds by sabotaging the network as a whole or not. The former has kinda been going on for a couple months now. – TooTea Jan 16 at 11:37
  • "does anyone really think you can fund a SE clone with the volume of traffic it gets?" Indeed not, and ironically that's exactly why we're here – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 at 11:56
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    "does anyone really think you can fund a SE clone with the volume of traffic it gets?" does anyone really think you can fund a free and open encyclopedia with the volume of traffic Wikipedia gets? – Josef says Reinstate Monica Feb 10 at 14:03
  • @JosefsaysReinstateMonica Wikipedia got there over a couple of decades through gradual growth in both content and popularity/traffic, iterative fundraising and infrastructure upgrades. That's very different from trying to launch a replacement of an established high-traffic site like SO. Unless you have lots of money to throw at this, any infrastructure you can fund is going to turn out woefully inadequate once you tell the world to update their bookmarks and you're hit by a deluge of traffic. – TooTea Feb 10 at 15:32
  • @TooTea it's not like you flip a switch and all the people suddenly switch to some other site. And most of the traffic the SE network gets is from search engines anyway and this traffic won't suddenly switch to an alternative. – Josef says Reinstate Monica Feb 11 at 11:03
  • @JosefsaysReinstateMonica Note the context in my answer. I'm talking about what happens if the company goes belly up and the network goes offline. Everyone would have to switch immediately in that case. – TooTea Feb 11 at 12:05
10

Stack Exchange seems to be changing from being a purportedly a community-run resource to not being so community-run.

That's a change - some would say something of a bait-and-switch. It's not unreasonable to expect some people to be rather cross about that.

If it's taken as a given that change is happening anyway, then some people may have a decision to make about how much time and effort they want to continue to invest in the site. But that's a hard decision to make if you're in the dark about what further changes might be coming.

Realistically if you want people to be positive about the future, it's necessary to paint a picture of a positive future. Give an idea of what the communities are going to look like in 2, 5, 10 years. What's the vision? If it's not the old vision, what's the new vision?

  1. Stop the angry rants on meta.
  2. Engage with the feedback mechanisms they provide.
  3. Reward positive behavior.

I think these suggestions make a lot of sense - but I can only see them helping if we are given reasons to be cheerful.

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No...

Stack Exchange needs us much more than we need them....

what is harder? to develop and host an Q&A website, or to get great professionals of the entire world to spend time and give high quality answers for free?

we should move on to another site (or build or own) and just wait for SE to slowly fade... Lets see how they will like they welcoming and politically correct bullshit when no one gives right answers and everyone asks "do my homework" type of questions...

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4

No.

You must provide your feedback, negative and positive in "as is" form. If community and analyst teams are comptent this will be better for them, because it's raw data which is much more suitable for processing and making decisions than any "prefiltered" one.

If they are not competent -- nothing will save them and us.

Yes, "CM is also human", but he must leave his humanity before he enters office: for them our "anger", "disappointment" etc are metrics which we show/not show etc. If we will start hide them -- we will just start lying to our CM team, which is not good.

Say truth, whatever it would be.

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    I find this view rather fatalistic. There are human factors at play here, this is not an equation. How we word and provide feedback absolutely matters for how it is recieved. You can't assume every employee is a perfectly rational person at all times, and base your behavior on that. It will fail. – mag Jan 16 at 14:27
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    That's true but I can and will assume that CM team, overhall, are rational and able to understand and process feedback. Anger and form in which we're presenting feedback is important part of feedback and it should not be hidden just because someone may cry. – Arenim Jan 16 at 14:29
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    We have undisputed (at least I don't dispute it) proof that our expressions of anger have counterproductive effects. Right now, what we do is a) not causing a change of mind in the managers and b) putting additional pressure on the few people in the company who still believe us to be worth listening to. Forget about professionality of the CMs. The people the CMs report to don't want to hear it, or take it as confirmation that we're not worth listening to. – mag Jan 16 at 14:31
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    "CM is also human, but he must leave his humanity before he enters office" Why? What part of being a community manager means leaving your humanity behind? In fact shouldn't it be the opposite? The CM team (both past and present) are effective at their job precisely because they didn't leave their humanity at the door when the went to work. By stripping them of their humanity, you've removed their ability to be empathetic and to care about the community in any meaningful way. – Rainbacon Jan 16 at 14:38

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