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I've been here for 10+ years now*. Like for a lot of people, Stack Exchange isn't a random website: it's a major chunk of my life. Years ago, Stack Exchange and the Community worked side-by-side towards a collective goal:

Making the internet a better place is the #1 goal of Stack Exchange.
Joel Spolsky ♦, 2011

Good days! We had an arrangement:

  1. The unpaid communities curated questions and answers, and facilitated expert participation. Why do random people on the Internet provide a free service for a private company? Because we believe in making the Internet a better place. After all, random people don't mop the dirty floors at McDonald's for free.

  2. In return for this free service, Stack Exchange provided us with the tools to make the Internet a better place. They edited the system to facilitate Q&A curation by the community, allowing everyone to participate through self-moderation. The provided SEO to attract experts and participants. They designed new sites for our favorite topics. They provided a stable platform where we can contribute without being HTML experts, etc.

    Stack Exchange ran some profitable services, employees had full-time paid jobs, and everyone was happy that Stack Exchange made enough money to stay afloat. But above all, it was a partnership: we were equals, and were in it together.

    Importantly, changes were predictable. We weren't surprised when features were implemented (even the ones we didn't like, e.g. mandatory arbitration), because we jointly discussed them first (months, even years in advance).

Q: Can we go back to this please?

Now is the situation is rapidly changing:

  1. Stack Exchange are making unilateral decisions, as if they are the boss in our partnership. Consequently, community members are left wondering why they're mopping the floor at McDonald's for free.

  2. Changes are now unpredictable, which leads to uncertainty: we don't even know if major sites will be shortly shut down. Thus, even if we continue mopping the floor, it might go to waste.

  3. We also seem to be overlooking how much effort it was to attract experts in the first place, basically taking experts for granted now.

I think I'm like many people nowadays, I'm...

dejected: downcast, downhearted, despondent, dispirited, disheartened, discouraged, demoralized, low-spirited, ...

I truly want to continue helping making the Internet a better place, but with Stack Exchange making unilateral, unpredictable decisions, I'm now uncertain even if Chinese.SE will exist tomorrow. I've simply lost the motivation to mop the floor for free. I'm not going to rage quit, strike, or anything like that. Most likely, at some point I'll just unnoticeably stop mopping.

*(I have an inactive account as a result of transitioning.)

  • 35
    This is a noble sentiment (and I've really appreciated your extremely level-headed contributions these past few months here; they've helped me see things more calmly and fairly several times) but I fear the ship has sailed due to the huge VC interests that now demand the place be beaten into shape to make them money. This is likely to trump everything else. I hope whoever works on building the next SO is carefully taking notes - the VC approach is understandably tempting, we all want nice lives, but it leads down a dark path. A site like SO wanted to be needs to be a Wikipedia-style nonprofit. – Pekka Jan 16 at 11:01
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    Stack Exchange ran some profitable services, employees had full-time paid jobs, and everyone was happy that Stack Exchange made enough money to stay afloat. But above all, it was a partnership: we were equals, and were in it together. Did they stay afloat because they were profitable, or because of VC-funding? I bet it was the latter. They were all investments, and at some point in time profit has to fill the hole dug by those investments. – Luuklag Jan 16 at 11:06
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    @Luuklag You guessed right - very right – iLuvLogix Jan 16 at 11:13
  • I fear the answer is most probably no. But of course nobody knows for certain really. – Trilarion Jan 16 at 11:30
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    It's far too late to save the network from inside. The only thing that could possibly work at this point is new ownership and a complete change of upper management. Even if that would happen, it would still be a private company and not necessarily much of a better one. – Lundin Jan 16 at 11:38
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    @Pekka I wonder how driving off the core group of users who generate most of the quality content and traffic, and irreparably tarnishing the brand, is expected to generate the VCs more money? This seems odd to me. – Cody Gray Jan 16 at 19:38
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    @CodyGray The official explanation is that the core group is too much set in their ways, is not welcoming enough, gives feedback that is not representative, difficult to process and drives new users away by setting too high quality standards. They don't understand that the knowledge base is finished and don't want to help with teaching everyone to code. There is also the usage of pronouns that is an issue somehow. More money is seen as coming from more new users even if this means less older users. The message is to please go away if you can't live with it. At least that's how I understood it. – Trilarion Jan 16 at 19:57
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    @CodyGray I suppose they see that core group of users as more of a nuisance than a revenue driver & that its behind-the-scenes importance for the site is overrated & that new people will be willing to curate & provide content without the cozy feeling of being a community that is being meaningfully listened to and has a stake in the site's future. Which I don't believe but am prepared to accept as possible! (cont'd) – Pekka Jan 17 at 12:29
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    SO rep is going to be perceived as prestigious for a long while to come, I suppose, even if the site as a whole deteriorates, and it may be enough to drive participation. Maybe (I keep repeating relationship allegories) we'll just have to accept that the love of our lives is dumping us and can actually live without us even if no one they hook up with in the future will ever care as deeply for them as WE used to. 😄 We will find out either way - the course seems set and it's abundantly clear there's nothing we can do to change it – Pekka Jan 17 at 12:45
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No

The CEO (who has not spoken to us ever) recently stated in the press that this is "a new era for Stack Overflow" while hiring a Chief Product Officer to replace two Community Managers.

I really think that's the only answer you'll get.

Furthermore, Meta is an echo chamber: these questions will not be read by the executive. So there's little point in asking them and, honestly, the repeated attempts may be doing more harm than good.

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Q: Can we go back to this please?

Time travel sadly doesn't exist. We can't really 'go back'. Things have happened, and as long as that's in the collective memory of a lot of people, they won't be forgotten. We can only work from here, but we can make a measure of working side by side with SE a goal to achieve, if that's what we want to do.

I'm pessimistic about working with the company as a whole, so whatever follows is aimed at working with the some of the public facing employees.

Stack Exchange are making unilateral decisions, as if they are the boss in our partnership.

In a way, they are, of course. We're using their platform, their infrastructure... and while it's all good fun and games for a company to sponsor a playground, in the end, they'll have to make money selling slides and swing sets.

We're volunteering to keep the playground running, in return for being able to play in it. And as long as the playground is full of play, it'll let paying customers see that investing in a slide or swing set might be useful.

A lot of people are used to a time where they were able to say 'You know what we would like to play with? Monkey bars!' and then get some monkey bars installed on their playground. This has changed.

For starters, the company is looking for people outside the playground too, to listen what it would take for these people to even consider playing in the playground, or not leave the playground after entering and not finding what they expected. This can also involve setting better expectations about what's on the playground, and doesn't necessarily involve changing the playground.

Also, the company now decides what we get to play with. We can still say we'd like monkey bars, but if they decide it's time to invest into some R&D of a seesaw, that's where we can still get our input. We can point out that red seesaws are much better than blue ones, or that we could break our bones if they make it so high it's dangerous to fall off of.

That's also where you can focus if you want to feel less like the decisions are unilateral. You can hope that one day they'll start working on monkey bars again, you can ask for it. But for now they're working on seesaws, so put your effort towards asking for the best seesaw you'd want. Of course, they are still the company and the few people that would like their seesaws to be red are disappointed when they're painted green... But it helps to remember that you weren't the only one asked about what color the seesaw should have.

Changes are now unpredictable, which leads to uncertainty: we don't even know if major sites will be shortly shut down. Thus, even if we continue mopping the floor, it might go to waste.

The sites won't be shut down, at least not tomorrow. So, I'd also advise against stopping the mopping. A building can decay after it's abandoned, but speeding up this decay by just neglecting it while you're still in it isn't a good tactic if you don't want to be evicted by your own neglect of the building.

Don't think of it as a waste of effort. Keep the playground clean, and keep the equipment intact. Keep pointing out the equipment that needs repairs. Keep asking for newer and better equipment. Keep asking for red seesaws, and provide solid arguments as to why they're better than green ones. Use the slide, use the swing set in the way that they're intended to be used.

And, if one day, suddenly there's a prototype seesaw on your playground, don't blame the seesaw for suddenly appearing. Try it out yourself so you can give feedback, or see how others have fun using it. If it's blocking the access to your favorite slide, ask for it to be moved instead of removed. At least that way, the final version of the seesaw won't be entirely unpredictable.

I do know that SE is working on some way of letting us know when they're working on the prototype seesaw so we won't be as surprised if it's there. But it's a hard process, because as soon as you tell a group of people you're looking into implementing some feature, they kinda expect it to happen and get disappointed if it doesn't. Or there's many arguments about why this feature shouldn't be done, and how 'other feature' is more important... drowning out the feedback about how 'feature' could be the best feature out there. So timing is important, as is the way we approach being told things about what's about to happen.

If we want to work together, it's a goal to achieve again within new limits, not something we can go back to. Right now, we can work together with the public facing side of the company within the limits that are apparently set for them by the not so public facing side of it. I think that's a fine first goal to try and achieve. Small steps and all.

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    I've been a long time lurker here and I have noticed a trend. People seem to keep waiting and maintaining while the company pushes towards profit over people. There are a lot of good faith members just trying to hold on. But the company only continually shows that they don't care. And within the last 6 months, it's been a cascade representation of that. Company first, community be damned. If people have said machines are broken for years and they are still not fixed, at some point you have to realize they won't be fixed. – RageFoxx Jan 16 at 12:26
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    @RageFoxx I won't deny that recent actions from the company have sent an entirely wrong signal. Yet I've also seen what the people that are still facing the public are saying (some of it in public rooms, some of it in places more private...) and I know that they'd at least appreciate us not wrecking things further, and trying to work with them within the constraints even they have. This is what we can still do, according to me and them. – Tinkeringbell Jan 16 at 12:35
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    "if they decide it's time to invest into some R&D of a seesaw, that's where we can still get our input" - that's the problem, it's not. They've made it pretty clear that the only way we could input into such decisions is if, by chance, we're invited into the hand-picked focus group (that doesn't even exist yet), who will be asked for their first-impression thoughts, with no room for considering or discussing the views of other users with more relevant experience. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jan 16 at 12:48
  • @user56reinstatemonica8 I believe that's a too fatalistic view of what the focus groups are meant to be, but I do admit we'll have to see how these turn out. In the meanwhile, there have been posts on both the moderator team and meta asking for feedback and bugs, for example, the new post notices. And not all changes requested there were immediately tagged status-declined, so I have good faith that this may continue in the future. SE posts about what they changed, we provide further feedback and get some of it implemented. – Tinkeringbell Jan 16 at 12:51
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    "We're volunteering to keep the playground running, in return for being able to play in it." We're volunteering to keep the playground running, and provide the slides and swing sets, in return for having permission to step onto the land and have the grass mown for us. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 at 12:52
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    @LightnessRacesBY-SA3.0 Nah, we get the permission and the grass mown too, for sure. That's not something that should be left unappreciated... but there's stuff to do here too, so we also get equipment to play with. Of course, people can be inventive and bring their own. I'd call that a userscript ;-) – Tinkeringbell Jan 16 at 12:56
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    I cannot say that I completely disagree... but it is not about features... it is about respecting people. Right now that means users, moderators and employees. This is the core issue. If SE continues to treat people like trash, we will rightfully object, because without us there would be no playground. It was joint venture. SE would not be here today without our collective (community) work. Of course, we also would not have a platform where we could work on... but then we would not waste time contributing to something, only to be ignored and abused. – Resistance Is Futile Jan 16 at 14:16
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Old Stack Exchange: The value is created by users solving programming problems. Our software should support them in doing so, collecting all their valuable programming solutions on our site.

New Stack Exchange: The value is created by the Q&A software. When users are using the software programming solutions fall out. Getting a higher absolute number of users is what needs to be done. Other will companies want to pay to use the Q&A software on their developers.

This is the fundamental disconnect. Users demand to be recognized for their value, because in their view they write the answers and do all the work while the software only sits idly by, waiting to store that work once it's finished.

In Stack Exchange's view a user is just one in a million and doesn't provide relevant value. If one user leaves you just need to find a new one, the Q&A software works with that one as well. If all the angry users finally left it would be easy to get more new users, resulting in a net positive.

To go back to the old way the company would need to reconsider their view, which they don't seem willing to do.

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  • 4
    Except that having experts leaving the site will eventually result in questions being poorly answered (if answered with anything at all) and then, newbies will start to leave or no more join the site. Jeff conceived SO with this view in mind. Current management sees the newbie as more valuable than the expert because he/she is more prone to click ads and completely forgot that the newbies only comes because there are experts here. If they were reading meta, they would be perfectly aware of that obvious thing, but they prefer to hear only to their own echo chamber at twitter. – Victor Stafusa Jan 16 at 13:40
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    @VictorStafusa That's the old way of thinking and absolutely makes sense to me. New SE doesn't seem to think that they need to give users a special reason to come here, they just assume they will, even if the company is going in the opposite direction of what caused the initial success. – sth Jan 16 at 13:56
  • "If one user leaves you just need to find a new one, the Q&A software works with that one as well." => the Eternal September syndrom SE Inc. is counting on maybe? – OldPadawan Jan 16 at 15:21

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