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My name is Teresa Dietrich. About a month ago, I joined Stack Overflow as Head of Product and Community, reporting directly to the CEO. During my years as an engineer and technology leader, I saw the impact this community and site has on people across the world and I am very excited to be here. While I have personally gotten a few answers from Stack Overflow over the years and have seen so many engineers I work with rely on it daily, I’m new to both the SE/SO Community and to the company. In my new role, however, I’m committed to learning about and rebuilding the relationship and trust between us all.

I understand our community ranges from users who visit only to find an answer, through increasingly deeper levels of engagement, to our curators and high reputation users at the core. I recognize I’m coming to this position at a low point in the relationship between the company and our most avid community members - those who are active on Meta and our Moderators. I know that there is a lot of work to do to repair our relationship with the community and I’m here today to show you how we plan to do that.

Over the last month, I have spent time listening to and asking questions of our Community Managers, our Engineers who are long-time community members, and those throughout the company with community involvement. I have been digging into our data and the feedback from our Site Satisfaction Survey and The Loop. I have been reading what you’ve said to us publicly including your posts on Meta and the Open Letter to Stack Exchange. Please consider what I write below to be a response to the Open Letter along with some of the other issues I’ve seen.

In the letter, you mention Tim Post’s 2018 blog post, Our Theory of Moderation Re-visited. Tim got it right when he said then that we had run afoul of these five principles. We have done so again since this blog was posted, and we likely will again in the future, unintentionally. From everything I have learned so far, I believe the unifying theme across our core community members, our moderators, our employees and company leadership is that everyone cares deeply. I believe - with a stronger relationship and better processes for feedback between us - that we can prevent larger incidents and learn from the ones that got us where we are now. I support these principles and we are recommitting to them and will show that commitment through our actions.

I believe that my position here now means that accountability for the company’s relationship with the overall community, particularly meta, starts with me.

I want to personally apologize for our actions or inactions, as the case may be, in the past that had a negative impact on our relationship. While specific recent events may have individually caused harm, years of neglect and a growing distance from our community led to those events and it will take conscious effort to repair the damage.

I want to start by establishing transparency with the community, and I know that transparency is an easy word to say but harder to define and put into action. I believe that transparency comes down to two core actions: expectation management and context setting. We (the Community, Product and Engineering teams) will endeavor to clarify and reset when necessary what you can expect from the company. We will also provide as much context as we can for policy, decisions, and actions that we take within legal and regulatory constraints - we want you to understand why we’re making changes, not just that we’re making them.

How will we do this? First, we established four themes for our community work this year.

  1. Understand our Community -
    • We will seek to better understand our community and the user segments within it. We will work to better understand the pain points and needs of our users and deliver solutions to them through our features and initiatives.
    • By being increasingly transparent we aim to regain trust with everyone - from brand new users to you, our most dedicated community members.
  2. Represent our Community -
    • As we better understand our community, we will represent you to the teams within the company whose decisions and actions impact you.
    • The employees at the company continue to change and come from a variety of backgrounds. We commit to helping everyone in the company learn about all of you and the site to empower them to make better decisions.
    • We will develop a community language and framework to educate the company and bring them along on the journey.
  3. Improve Feedback Metrics -
    • Our users have shared that they don’t feel heard by Stack Overflow. We will define a framework for the various types and methods of feedback and dedicate time to processes and outreach that identify ways we can be serving them better and facilitating better two-way communications.
  4. Increase Community Engagement -
    • Though our active user base continues to grow, our engagement has remained the same. What this means is that while more users are coming to the site every month, the number of users who engage meaningfully in the site does not increase proportionally.
    • To change this dynamic, we will balance investing in improving our tools and features that benefit our long-term users with initiatives that convert new users into engaged ones.
    • We want to build long-term relationships with as many of you as we can by providing useful features that deliver value to you. If engagement is not growing with the overall user base, a lower percentage of you are getting value from these interactions each year.
    • Working directly with targeted groups through UX research, we will identify and invest in features and tools that will improve the experience.

Based on these themes, we are building our Community Roadmap of initiatives. I will share the Q1 roadmap with you all within the next week in a blog post and will take part in an accompanying Meta discussion (update: The 2020 Q1 Community Roadmap was released on the blog and on meta on Feb 25). I considered sharing it here but believe there is enough to share about the process and initiatives to warrant its own separate post and discussion. I commit to sharing these roadmaps with you regularly going forward.

Initiatives Launched:

  • We have continued to publish “The Loop” monthly to share the UX research and product exploration going on within the Product, Design, Community and Engineering teams within the company. We will continue to solicit feedback through The Loop as well.
  • We have established what we believe are clear and open guidelines to deal with situations where moderators may need to have their privileges revoked or to be reinstated. We know the processes aren’t perfect yet and you have shared how you would like us to improve them. We’ll be reviewing your feedback and work to incrementally improve these processes for transparency. Our goal is a set of procedures that work to protect all users, the Community as a whole, and the company while being respectful of our moderators.
  • We have released an updated Privacy Policy that incorporated feedback from Community Managers along with a meta post for questions and discussion that accompanied the update.

Initiatives in Progress:

  • We have defined a standard process for new policy or process review that includes Community Managers, employees who are long-time community members, and Moderators before being shared and put into place. Our plan is to provide new policies to the planned Moderator Council for feedback periods before they are made official. We will then share it with all Moderators through the Stack Moderators Team for advance notification. We value the deep understanding that moderators on the network have of their communities and users, and welcome honest, respectful feedback from the greater Stack Exchange Community.
  • We are encouraging employees to be active within the community, both officially on metas and for fun in their areas of expertise or interest, and will be providing simple guidelines and a helpful FAQ for employees in the next week (update: the guidelines and FAQs were shared with employees on Feb 25).
  • We are defining our commitment to responding to Meta posts & Moderators questions through our new standard process and will be sharing that with a group of Moderators for feedback. We will share it with you all within the next two weeks (update: our commitment to responding to Meta and Moderators was posted on March 4).
  • We have drafted our followup and clarification on the Content Licensing issue and will be publishing that within the next two weeks (update: our followup regarding content licensing was posted on March 3).
  • We will be creating a Moderator offboarding process, including a survey and interviews with departing Moderators. Our goal is to take the time to listen to and understand why a Moderator has chosen to resign and how we can improve the site, processes, and policies. We will send this survey to the recently-resigned moderators so that their suggestions can be considered (update: The survey was sent to moderators on April 3rd and made available on MSE on April 7th).

We want the relationship between the company, the community and its moderators to be based on open, transparent communication that will be made in good faith. I believe the deterioration of communication and trust has been a problem for quite some time. I believe that re-establishing transparency and open, two-way communication will be a key ingredient in rebuilding the relationship between the community, moderators, employees and the company.

To all of the moderators who have resigned or suspended your activities over the past few months: your presence and impact is missed. We value all of your work to keep your sites clean and communities healthy. We understand the many reasons why you felt that it was necessary to step down and that it was a painful decision. We are working on many of the issues that influenced your decisions to leave, and we aim to back these intentions up with actions, accountability, and consistent open communication. If you feel that your issues continue to go unaddressed, I invite you to post about them on Meta in a respectful way. And if you choose to apply for moderator reinstatement, we look forward to hearing about this as well and to seeing you back on your sites.

While I am only a month into this role, we have a lot more plans in the works around how we gather feedback, encourage collaboration, improve curator tools, and improve the quality and relevancy of content - and we are excited to work together with you to make sure this platform meets the needs of our entire community. I personally commit to reading and responding within Meta at least once a week going forward and you might see me hanging around on Travel, too. I sincerely hope these commitments and actions will contribute to rebuilding our relationship and trust, and I look forward to engaging with you all more as we go on this journey together.

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    Thank you and welcome to Meta! This seems like a positive message and I hope that y'all will be able to follow through on this. I am excited to see the first results of this work and I hope for a better community-company relationship from now on. – MEE Feb 19 at 16:03
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    That was quite a read - but a good one. One caveat and suggestion I'd like to voice, though: don't wait for the ex-moderators to come back by just going "hey, just apply for reinstatement". The process is neither transparent nor open, and I doubt any of them would go for it due to that. Take the first step and contact them; amongst other spots, there's a discord server a lot of them hang out in, along with a few SE employees. This would be a great place to start. – Sébastien Renauld Feb 19 at 16:05
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    Thinking about it, one of the issues of this fiasco has been no real line of communication. I know I've had neutral feedback nuked from orbit for no other reason than "cleaning up", and I know for sure that I'm hesitant on posting anything anymore due to this; setting up an open DMZ to have honest, open communication would be a major step forward. Right now, the comms channels feel like shams (like the moderator reinstatement or the loop - which has glaring statistical issues on results published) or openly hostile. – Sébastien Renauld Feb 19 at 16:12
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    Could you (briefly, very briefly) explain what your role in the company is? I understand you must be upper management, but I'm afraid that "Head of Product and Community" doesn't mean much to my business-ignorant ears. Would that make you the person ultimately responsible for the entire public Q&A network? – terdon Feb 19 at 16:56
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    Have you also read the Lavender letter written from the LGBTQ+ segment of moderation and the community? – doppelgreener Feb 19 at 17:06
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    Well, Monica has left, but I'm sure you could contact her iff you really wanted. You would learn a lot, I'm sure. – Martin Schröder Feb 19 at 17:36
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    @ReinstateMonica-M.Schröder if Teresa wants to talk I am certainly open to that. The agreement does not forbid it. She sounds sincere about wanting to fix things, and if so she should want to reach out. My contact info is public. (I was alerted to this post.) – Monica Cellio Feb 19 at 18:13
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    @terdon My title is Chief Product Officer and I report directly to the CEO here. I have responsibility for Community with the Community teams now in my org. I have responsibility for all of the Products including Public Q&A Platform as well as Talent, Ads and Teams. Does this clarify while meeting the very briefly request? – Teresa Dietrich Feb 19 at 18:18
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    "Understand our Community" You just fired numerous veterans that already did this, and now you want to re-invent the wheel by discovering what those people already know? The leadership decisions in your company simply don't make any sense. Over and over, through the whole of 2019 to this date, the leadership decisions don't make any sense. This is the root of all your problems. It's far too late to fix things now. I don't want to hear what this company has to say, I don't want to deal with this company and I certainly don't want to be the customer of this company. – Lundin Feb 20 at 7:50
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    @SaraChipps Respectfully, reinstating Monica would go a long way to reassure the community of your intentions. She should not be forced to re-apply, as she did not choose to step down. Prove us wrong. Thank you. – Boaz Feb 20 at 10:29
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    This reminds of so many other corporate disasters. Corporations are more than willing to talk your ears off, to "communicate" with you. They always deny there is a problem, until that doesn't work. Then they'll deny the problem is serious, until that doesn't work. They'll be glad to setup committees, working groups, and so forth to study the problem and make recommendations. Assuming good intent for every one of these efforts is simply agreeing to be Charlie Brown every time Lucy offers to hold the football. If SO wants to improve then should do something substantive first. – President James K. Polk Feb 20 at 14:18
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    The single thing that I am absolutely the most angry about from all this fiasco was the high-placed employee explicitly attacking a dedicated volunteer, by name, to the media. We, as individuals, do not have the kind of clout to answer back against such attacks. SO used the clout that they got from volunteer labor to attack a volunteer, and the person who did so remains a part of the future here without any apparent consequence. It's hard to reconcile, hard to accept, and hard to trust a company that is comfortable with this state of affairs. – Chris Feb 20 at 14:55
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    @SaraChipps "We've been working on that internally especially given recent data unearthed by the team." Err... so, now when data shows that Meta users are not so insignificant, you are willing to pay attention... The problem is, not that you were not paying attention when you though we are insignificant, but that you have shown complete and utter disrespect to us, while at the same time you were repeating mantra "about building inclusive and diverse community". Even if original numbers were correct, your behavior was beyond unacceptable. – Resistance Is Futile Feb 21 at 11:46
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    I've compared this problem to that of resource starvation in naive CPU schedulers, @resistance: when load is high (and it always is here), low priority "threads" never get a chance to run. Indeed... This algorithm was codified in at least one internal document when I left: concerns from people with low measurable influence were not to get a response. I hope this will change; there are more than a few skilled computer scientists whose knowledge could be brought to bear on the problem if only it were to be recognized by those doing the scheduling. – Shog9 Feb 21 at 15:54
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    Why is this getting so many upvotes when it's all about trying to move forward, rather than actually addressing the issues we've got around here? What we need first and foremost is to move backwards, to undo the harmful changes that have been made in the last few years. Until SE makes this the highest priority, it'll keep alienating the community. "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. -- C. S. Lewis" – Mason Wheeler Feb 21 at 16:27

63 Answers 63

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I want to be hopeful. I really do. But I can't. The company has burned through all its goodwill, with me, at least. I want to think this is the first step to recovery, but I thought that about every communication from SE to the community. I'm not willing to believe in yet more words. Words are cheap. Words we have received in abundance.

The follow-through on those words, however, has told an incredibly different story. The company fired the very people that were trying to preserve the communication between us. The company has not met the commitments it made. Until there are clear, concrete changes in how the company treats us volunteers, and, more importantly, holds itself accountable to the communities, I can't see this as anything more than words.

In the words of Jerry Maguire, "Show me the money".

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    I share this sentiment. When I wrote that wretched Firing Mods and Forced Relicensing post almost 5 months ago, this statement was roughly what I was hoping for as a “good-faith effort towards mending the rift”. But so much more harm has been done in the meanwhile that I'm keeping my expectations very low. Teresa has a long list of really important items, but following through will be non-trivial. In the past, the community managers who noticeably cared had no real agency left. – amon Feb 19 at 17:25
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    I totally understand this sentiment and if I were in your shoes I would feel the same way. I personally believe actions are much more powerful than words in nearly all situations. I promise to back up these words with action, starting with the commitments I made above. We have a long backlog of stuff we need to work through and deliver to you all, but we are adding to it daily, prioritizing it based on feedback and ensuring we deliver it. – Teresa Dietrich Feb 19 at 18:46
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    I really agree with this post, the problem is that it's like the 5th time I've agreed with such a post. We've had the same promises from Fullerton, Chipps, the new CEO (sorry forgot name), and a few others I think. And that's all I'm just the last ~6 months. Every time the top response is 'good start, now follow it up'. Every time things just get worse – David says Reinstate Monica Feb 19 at 22:41
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    I'd be careful about saying "Words are cheap" indefinitely. There are 100 different things this community wants. The root problem has always been Meta falling upon deaf ears. This post, unlike the others, shows a real understanding of the current situation. To me, the fact that the CPO has taken time to understand the issues is a very real action. – Nathan Merrill Feb 20 at 3:18
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    @NathanMerrill No, the root problem is that the company suddenly launches Poorly Considered Feature out of the blue. Then when meta complains it falls upon deaf ears, but the root problem is the person who decided to launch Poorly Considered Feature. The root problem isn't even that Poorly Considered Feature was released without community feedback, but that someone came up with it in the first place. – Lundin Feb 20 at 13:37
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    @Lundin Releasing a Poorly Considered Feature is a symptom of not listening. These were obviously Considered Features, as they spent time and money. What makes them Poorly Considered Features is the lack of understanding of how the site works. Updating the licensing is a good idea at it's core, but the implementation of how they do it makes all the difference. – Nathan Merrill Feb 20 at 14:07
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    This post, unlike the others, shows a real understanding of the current situation. I'm gonna have to disagree with you, @NathanMerrill. From a cynical standpoint, it's PR spin, meant to continue to placate everyone and continue doing free labour for the benefit of SE. I want to believe it's more than that, but we've been through this song and dance too many times to take SE at their word anymore. Until I see actual changes, I'm assuming this is nothing more but the same. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. – fbueckert Feb 20 at 14:16
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    @NathanMerrill I'm more thinking about features like "lets make our front page a messy paywall" or "lets launch pornographic ads network-wide". That's not just a lack of understanding of how the site works, it's a lack of understanding how humans and the world work. – Lundin Feb 20 at 14:18
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    The feature wasn't "Launch pornographic ads" or "Make a messy paywall". It was "Add advertising" and "Build Teams for SO". I can get behind monetization models, but not in the way they did it. – Nathan Merrill Feb 20 at 14:21
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    @fbueckert my last response wasn't a proper full one. From my reading of the post, it really appears as if Teresa spent time going back and reading and considering the posts made by meta, and actually gets it. I don't know if that is true. But to me, that appears to be the case. Whether the words show true understanding of the site is up to the reader. If there really is understanding, then there was real action going on. If there isn't understanding, then I agree: they are vapid words. – Nathan Merrill Feb 20 at 14:37
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    @NathanMerrill And the only way to know which one is correct is through those changes. I've had enough of listening. I want to start seeing. No, I need to start seeing. – fbueckert Feb 20 at 15:17
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    @NathanMerrill Except SEI didn't "add advertising" - they went from a curated advertising model to just using Google Ads for the site. The problem that people had wasn't hat the advertising existed, it was that SEI forfeited their control of it ... because "reasons" ... and introduced a platform that presented people with NSFW ads. – anonymous Feb 20 at 16:51
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    Oh. have they finally noticed how badly they've damaged the relationship? Well, that a step. There must be some interesting statistics there :-), which I'm sure we won't get. But rebuilding what you've blown to smithereens for no reason at all is quite another matter. – user625792 Feb 20 at 19:26
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    Completely agree. I really hope this is the start of a great thing - but I can't help but see the parallels to this post, which started off with a great positive reaction, and then tailed off to be the second most downvoted post ever when it became clear the words were mostly, if not entirely, empty. Certainly nothing against Teresa, and I wish her all the best - but we (as in the community) would be foolish not to be rather sceptical at this point. – berry120 Feb 20 at 20:36
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    @GeorgeMReinstateMonica "There must be some interesting statistics there :-), which I'm sure we won't get." The bit of statistics that were shared basically stated that they did not see any significant change in behavior but that the reach of meta may be larger than previously assumed. Either they have already seen an effect but don't want to disclose it, or they fear of what might happen (they might assume inertia in the system), or they have changed their view of the data or this is just words. One or a combination of these things. – Trilarion Feb 21 at 10:10
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+1800

While I am rather pessimistic about whether anyone will manage to clean out the Augias' stable of fiefdoms and overall dysfunctional culture that Stack Overflow the company seems to have become on the inside.... this is definitely a breath of fresh air and the first corporate communication in years that sparked hope in me that something could, maybe, actually meaningfully change in company-community relations. We'll see.

There is a number of things the company could do that in my view would signal that it is actually willing to put its money where its mouth is:

  • Offer to unilaterally and unconditionally free Monica Cellio from whatever non-disclosure agreement is in her settlement, if this is something she wants to revisit. Right now, it is looking like she is being pressured to shut up by an authoritarian government threatening her loved ones or something. It's a terrible look, and as far as I'm concerned, I have no interest in contributing anything to the place, and would not shed a tear if it crashed and burned tomorrow, as long as this is not fixed. (If Monica then chooses to continue to not talk about how the legal action was resolved, that is perfectly fine and totally her right, of course. But then we will know it is because she wants to put things behind her, not because she is being gagged on pain of being driven into ruination.) Failing this... find some other damn way to make this truly right. Because as it stands, it doesn't really feel like it is.

  • Offer to unconditionally, retroactively increase severance pay for Shog9 and Robert, and possibly the other employees that were let go, to four weeks' wages and benefits per year worked, or whatever else is reasonable, and acknowledge the departure and momentous influence the two CMs two had on what Stack Overflow is today, in an official blog post. I know our preoccupation with this may look silly to you; parting ways with people when new leadership comes in is par for the course for any high-powered company, and obviously any business has the legal right to pay just as little severance to former employees as it absolutely has to. However, Stack Overflow has an unorthodox, symbiotic relationship with its community. A proper send-off both financially and in honouring their impact is important to that community because being a company that does right by its employees is part of the unwritten contract that motivates the often highly-paid professionals that keep the site running to donate meaningful slices of their time to a for-profit enterprise. That the company didn't look out for its employees and the volunteer community that helped build the place had to step in to help out is a disgrace, and it can't be good for the morale of the remaining employees, either.

    In regards to not making the payment conditional on a non-disclosure agreement - this may look like a huge concession, but might actually work out to the company's advantage. The dirty laundry now being aired in public on Twitter (very responsibly, politely, and professionally, I might add) by some ex-employees who apparently didn't sign such a document may look ugly at first - but I am certain it will actually turn out to be a net long term benefit for company-community relations. Because everyone involved with the site sensed all this internal dysfunction all along. We just couldn't put it into words because they lacked information. Now it can be talked about... both inside and outside the company... and fixed. Well, maybe.

  • Give consideration to the idea of spinning off the public side of Q&A into a nonprofit. I know this probably looks insane to you. But it could (to stick with the Greek mythology) be the strike cutting through the Gordian knot: separating the concerns of the for-profit company and those of building a library of knowledge that is free and open to the world forever. Opening up the possibility of the public Q&A part becoming partly funded by donations or the communities themselves... while still serving the for-profit company's goals in a multitude of ways, as a prestigious flagship, funneling customers, showcasing the Q&A product, and many others.

  • Whatever you do, please have all community-facing employees continue this new, awesome, largely bullshit-free style of communication - even when having to announce stuff that people won't like. The Stack Overflow community is very intelligent, and can smell dishonesty from a mile away. Continuing the course of the last few months - of radio silence and insincere communication - would be a sure-fire way to destroy what little trust there is left.

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    The Stack Overflow community is very intelligent, and can smell dishonesty from a mile away You'd like to think so but I'm not sure that's so, c.f. the way in which the CEO's apology was initially highly upvoted then downvoted. It's true that the community cares about tone and whether things seem to be written by a human (see also the "cluetrain manifesto"). – ChrisW Feb 21 at 12:51
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    @ChrisW You'd like to think so but I'm not sure that's so OK, let me rephrase: "The Stack Overflow community is very intelligent... and too damn trusting for its own good." A prerequisite to investing hundreds of hours into something like this, for sure 😄 – Pekka Feb 21 at 13:51
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    @ScottSeidman many signs suggest the public Q&A part is not the biggest driver of revenue, possibly not even profitable on its own. The money is made in the Jobs and Teams products, it seems. A public Q&A nonprofit would continue to serve SO's commercial goals wherever it can, for sure, but would be somewhat more independent and protected from whatever abuses the sales team might otherwise inflict on it down the line if revenue doesn't develop according to the owners' desires – Pekka Feb 21 at 13:53
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    @Pekka and yet without the public Q&A the jobs section becomes your average recruitment board, without its privileged place and its massive pool of eyes that are 100% in the developer market. There is some serious synergy and it'd be dumb for somebody to pretend it does not exist. I mean, fuck, I found my last two jobs through SO. – Sébastien Renauld Feb 21 at 14:21
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    @Pekka we're in agreement, I was just saying that the relationship is more symbiotic than the last few months' attitude from management would lead people to believe. – Sébastien Renauld Feb 21 at 14:30
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Tried to... intelligently leave some of the highlights that wouldn't seem out of place but this got a bit too into the weeds for comments. :) – Catija Feb 21 at 22:38
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    This is a fantastic well written post. I basically have turn away from the community as a whole because the person delivering the message could not be take seriously in my view. At any rate, I guess I will peek in from time to time. – Neo Feb 24 at 14:56
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    @Pekka do you know if there's an easy to browse archive of everything George Stocker said on Twitter about SE? Maybe a PDF or post or something? – jrh Feb 24 at 19:49
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    @jrh I started archiving them in January for Rebecca Stones who is behind the Great Firewall, here but I'm waaaay behind. I might do an update at some point but can't promise an ETA – Pekka Feb 24 at 22:44
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    Yep. There are users who keep saying the Monica thing is a done deal and we should put it behind us. It's absolutely not. Settlements can be revised. The only path forward still involves that. And, as I keep saying, the people responsible for this mess need to be sacked. They're all out of chances. – StackOverthrow Feb 27 at 10:57
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    I think the key metric here might be whether this new bs-free communication style is still present 6 months from new. – Steve Bennett Feb 28 at 0:19
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    Also, expect a +500 rep from me as well on this brave, inspiring and visionary action. – einpoklum Feb 29 at 21:30
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    @ChrisW: It wasn't very skillfully written. Ms. Chipps' posts were easy to see through, Fullerton more difficult, but to me it really stood out. Now, this post by Teresa Dietrich is skillfully written, to the extent that it sounds relatively genuine and upfront to me (or at least - I can't find obvious faults in it). – einpoklum Feb 29 at 21:42
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    What is the Augias' stable of fiefdoms? My Google search for "augias stack overflow" returns this answer as the top result... – Will Mar 2 at 17:25
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    @Will It's a reference to one of the Labours of Heracles. – AmaiKotori Mar 2 at 17:36
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Over the last month, I have spent time listening to and asking questions of our Community Managers, our Engineers who are long-time community members, and those throughout the company with community involvement.

Many of the most respected Community Managers saw their employment end with SO/SE within the past month, many long-term site moderators have resigned, and quite a few high-reputation users have suspended activity or deleted accounts. Some details were shared by the departing employees and it seems there is a problem at the core of company. While this post makes a solid attempt to address this growing disconnect between the Company and the Users it seems odd then that some of people best suited to assist in this endeavor are no longer here.

I wish you the best in your new position and look forward to initiatives you laid out. I hope you can quickly build the trust of the community because I know it will be difficult to replace people who spent years developing these relationships. I also hope these efforts are not "too little, too late".

Good Luck!

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    Thanks for your encouragement. It has been a very difficult road to travel and we sorely miss all of our past CMs. This announcement is meant to reinvigorate the care and attention that we've always known to be important and necessary. Teresa gets it and I'm glad she's here to lead us into better situations as we continue to work side by side with you all. – Juan M Feb 19 at 16:44
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    I agree with the sentiment, but... trust is never built quickly. It will take time. – gerrit Feb 19 at 17:06
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    @JuanM "we sorely miss all of our past CMs" - even the two that were fired? And if you miss them, why fire them? Or is that meant as a personal statement expressing discontent with your upper management? Sorry, but a sentence like that at this point in time is just adding fuel to the fire... – l4mpi Feb 20 at 9:15
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    @l4mpi It's clear now that the Community Management team have been as badly treated by senior management as the community itself. Jon Ericson and shog9 have posted on blogs, twitter etc that it's been like this and getting worse since 2015, when senior management took away their autonomy, started micro-managing them to do things they knew would end badly, and demanded the entire company treat users as nothing but sales leads for SO Jobs, Enterprise and (recently) Teams. The CMs have been doing good work under very difficult circumstances not of their making. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 20 at 9:49
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    @user56reinstatemonica8 Thank you for that. Your comment was very meaningful to me. – Juan M Feb 20 at 21:06
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    @l4mpi I'd like to point out that Juan (and other employees like him) are not responsible for firing Shog and Robert, and for Jon's departure. Upper management is. While I share your frustration on the subject (don't we all?), we have to take into account that they most probably had nothing to say in these cases. We can't put every SE employee/manager in the same basket and treat them like they are a single unit. – Laf Feb 20 at 23:29
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    @Laf I'd like to point out that if "upper management" disagrees with JuanM, then everything JuanM says is meaningless PR spin. – user253751 Feb 21 at 10:50
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    @Laf what user253751 said. The "we" in the quoted sentence implies that Juan speaks for a group of people, but it's entirely unclear to me who this group is. Is it "all CMs who have to deal with the fallout of the bad management decisions", or is it "the community team", or "all of SE", or some other group? It seems like he's at most speaking for the CMs only (because whoever fired Shog and Robert probably doesn't miss them). But in that case, this statement isn't worth much because as demonstrated CMs are powerless in the face of certain people with director roles... – l4mpi Feb 21 at 13:01
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    @user253751 Maybe Juan speaks for himself and not for the company. Teresa did say she'd like the staff to come and interact with the community. I presume every staff's recent posts are in line with this "policy", which is a good thing for us. I get that he works for SE, but at some point we have to cut him (and other CM's) some slack. Teresa said she wanted to improve things, other staff'ers are posting more often than they did during the last 6 months/last year, this is an improvement, albeit a tiny one. [...] – Laf Feb 21 at 14:19
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    [...] But if every time they post here we keep pounding on them, they will see this increase in interaction with the community as being worthless. If they don't live up to the expectations they are setting, we get to pound real hard on them, but if they show positive signs, we're slowly becoming the sour one that can't see any sort of progress at all. – Laf Feb 21 at 14:19
230

Thank you. I hope this is "this time for realz".

I was one of the proponents of the open letter, and I set up the site to host it. I thought it had the potential to create some momentum behind changing things at the company, and I was disappointed when all it got was a wishy-washy response that gave few solid commitments and then petered out never to be heard from again. A further response was promised but never materialised.

Then, Stack Overflow apologised. Twice. The first was... not great. The second - from David Fullerton - seemed to have potential; it acknowledged the major issues and tried not to place fault anywhere but the company, and I hoped that might be the sign of actual change. Then... that came to nothing as well; the commitments it promised were barely delivered, and then only as an afterthought.

And then Stack Overflow decided to gut its community management team by removing two of its most prominent and experienced members. I'd stuck with things up to that point, but that was my final straw - I didn't go out with a bang, just faded into the background and stopped participating.

If these are solid commitments, not afterthoughts, I'm looking forward to coming back - but I hope you can understand that I won't believe it until I see it. Actions speak louder.

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    Thanks @ArtOfCode. "Actions speak louder" — we totally agree. Many actions are planned. Looking forward from hearing your thoughts on progress (in public or you also know how to get a hold of me privately as well). – Yaakov Ellis Feb 20 at 9:18
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    Thanks Art, now I don't have to write anything :) – James Feb 25 at 15:24
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    Well said, very well said. – Cardinal - Reinstate Monica Feb 26 at 23:31
177

To start off, thank you for posting this. This is the most promising thing I've seen since I stepped down as a moderator several months ago. This is the first thing I've seen that gives me an actual glimmer of hope that I could get on board with having a diamond again.


You say:

"...I personally commit to reading and responding within Meta at least once a week going forward..."

Do you believe that once a week is enough to keep on top of issues that the community raises? Meta has a tendency to move rather quickly; I'm usually here for roughly fourteen hours a day, six days a week, both keeping an eye on the main site and hanging out in the Tavern on the Meta, and I still entirely miss some important things. Do you have a system in place for making sure that things don't get missed due to the fast-paced nature of Meta?

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    I left an infernal script for this purpose on the internal GitHub server, if anyone can figure out how to run it... – Shog9 Feb 19 at 16:18
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    @Shog9 read that as 'infernal github server' and was nodding... – djsmiley2kStaysInside Feb 19 at 16:18
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    The third bullet in the "Initiatives in Progress" section is our company's plan to reinvest in Meta. And no, once a week is not enough time to stay on top of all of the issues on Meta but she'll have the CM team and others reading and sharing along with her. We're committing to working together on this. – Juan M Feb 19 at 16:19
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    We're also working on trying to get @Shog9's infernal script up and running :P – JNat Feb 19 at 16:19
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    @JNat I give it 6 to 8 weeks ... ;) – rene Feb 19 at 16:31
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    @djsmiley2kTMW Fun fact, there's also an infernal github server, officially; a bunch of people in the office signed the case's lid when it was bought sometime 2016ish? ...then it had unending hardware issues. We ditched it for a VM, but it's still sitting in the rack to this day in case someone dares challenge the curse. – Shane Madden Feb 19 at 17:21
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    @JNat I'm sure there's someone you could hire as a consultant to do that. – Andrew Leach Feb 19 at 17:44
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    @mithical I agree its not enough time if that was all we were doing. We are working to publish our commitment to responding to Meta posts from the larger community team. So we will have a whole team keeping an eye on the site and a process to ensure we are aware and responding on the site. I believe in underpromising and overdelivering so I will strive for more but this is my personal commitment to always maintain. – Teresa Dietrich Feb 19 at 18:15
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    @TeresaDietrich Well said! – called2voyage Feb 19 at 18:38
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    @Shog9 Hey, maybe they'll bring you back as an external contractor: Stack Overflow's Infernal Script Barterer. (Role may also include cajoling and pleading and, in the case of printing, minor blood sacrifice.) – wizzwizz4 Feb 21 at 15:19
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    @wiz hiring Shog as external contractor was suggested directly to the CEO of SE, and ignored, as expected. They don't want him back. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Feb 23 at 8:06
  • @ShadowWizardisEarForYou suggested by whom in what forum? – TylerH Feb 24 at 15:40
  • @TylerH meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/393552/… under "Community managers released from service". – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Feb 24 at 15:44
  • @ShadowWizardisEarForYou That doesn't show what you've claimed. – TylerH Feb 24 at 15:51
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    @TylerH how so? Aaron suggested this to the CEO directly, just to get the lame "Cannot comment". Which is wrong. CEO of a company can comment on anything he wants to, he just doesn't want to. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Feb 24 at 16:13
135

To all of the moderators who have resigned or suspended your activities over the past few months: your presence and impact is missed. [...] If you feel that your issues continue to go unaddressed, I invite you to post about them on Meta in a respectful way. And if you choose to apply for moderator reinstatement, we look forward to hearing about this as well and to seeing you back on your sites.

I'm not a moderator, but it seems to me this is very late, and not really going to do much for the moderators who have quit or are no longer actually performing moderator actions.

The damage done to moderators is real, and I doubt there is much that can be done at this point to bring them back. Would you want to risk being on the receiving end of the reputational damage that was done to Ms. Cellio?

Focusing on the requests that moderators have made over the past couple of months, instead of hand-wavy non-apology apologies, would be a welcome departure from the status quo as it exists up to this point.

In short, action not words.

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    Quote from the post (a bit above your quote): "We will send this survey to the recently-resigned moderators so that their suggestions can be considered.". I'll be waiting this survey before voting on antything – Tensibai Feb 19 at 16:20
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    "About a month ago, I joined Stack Overflow as Head of Product and Community"..... it takes time to get your head around a company, and then to try and get your head around a community as.... vibrant and challenging (in a good way) as SE's is going to take even longer. I think bashing them for this isn't nice. – djsmiley2kStaysInside Feb 19 at 16:20
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    please, I'm not bashing anyone. I'm simply stating what needs to happen, IMO. – Max Vernon Feb 19 at 16:22
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    "In short, action not words." - yes, but they're being transparent about it. Several things they're doing have been mentioned, and we have actually mentioned that we want more transparency a couple times. – Zoe The Lockdown Princess Feb 19 at 16:22
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    I'd actually say that we need better actions and words. Don't discount the immense communication issue the SEI and the community have had. This is a good step forward in that area at least (assuming they keep moving forward in this direction). – Rubiksmoose Feb 19 at 16:24
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    Agreed with all of the above. A personal apology is a nice first step but, coming from someone new who wasn't involved in anything that went down, it's hardly meaningful. A personal apology from those involved and a non-personal apology from the company would be much better. That said, the communication and community commitments are excellent and I hope it pans out. Of course, they did fire the people who were doing the best at those things.... – user154510 Feb 19 at 16:27
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    I tend to agree with this answer. I like nice words. I'm a big believer in nice words. I try to write nice words... But it is actions that tell you whether nice words are sincere. There is a certain action the company must take which has been pending for several months... It could be done well, or it could end up being another slap in the face for the volunteers who've dedicated so much time here. I will withhold judgement on these words until I see how that action is taken. – Shog9 Feb 19 at 16:30
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    @Shog9 I actually disagreed with this answer specifically because it did not withhold judgement on the words and simply assumed that no actions can be taken to move things forward. Recently we've had miscommunication after miscommunication and attempts to repair that aspect should not be discounted I think. Of course it is all meaningless if not followed up by actions, but words are faster and easier than actions and it is a good first step. – Rubiksmoose Feb 19 at 16:35
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    I didn't read it that way, @rubiks. Max notes that there are many, many extant pleas from moderators and curators; I happen to know there are also dozens of heartfelt emails from the same. Starting with them would indeed be a good show of good faith. IOW, before asking for more feedback, start by listening to what has already been said. – Shog9 Feb 19 at 16:39
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    @Rubiksmoose - I didn't want to leave a long winded wordy answer. I don't think I was rude to Teresa, even if I didn't explicitly mention that an apology is a good thing. This event (and the surrounding issues) demand far more than simply more words. – Max Vernon Feb 19 at 16:39
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    @MaxVernon: I don't think you were rude at all, FWIW. I just don't really think I share your outlook. In the end though, we all seem to agree. Actions must follow through on these words or they are worse than meaningless, they are a slap in the face. – Rubiksmoose Feb 19 at 16:42
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    @MaxVernon I agree with your last comment, but your answer seems to ignore what's in the bullet points above the part you quoted and it sounds like their planned actions don't exists at all. – Tensibai Feb 19 at 16:42
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    @Rubiksmoose where does this answer assumes that "no actions can be taken to move things forward"? – Lamak Feb 19 at 18:51
  • @Lamak I'd rather not debate this in the comments here. It's not really useful to the answerer and usually not helpful to either person arguing either ;-) I didn't downvote or anything so what I think has little impact regardless. – Rubiksmoose Feb 19 at 19:04
  • @lamak is always useful – Max Vernon Feb 19 at 19:16
133

It's nice to see something written, but I have a serious question that I think needs to be addressed and would be a good starting point for a new Head of Product and Community:

Why did Stack Exchange, Inc see a need to change things in the first place?

I've been on the Stack Overflow network from all the way back when it was in private beta and have watched things evolve over the years as things scaled. While there were growing pains, the community had sorted out a fairly decent way of moderating things. While people are correct in that it was somewhat off-putting to newcomers and a better way of integrating them into the community was needed, the system also managed to keep high-quality information on the internet as well.

Reflecting back upon the past six months to a year, I get the impression that Stack Exchange, Inc. started trying to dictate to the community how to operate. As I write this, I even see a "Teresa Dietrich is a new contributor. Be nice, and check out our Code of Conduct." banner despite the fact that I have over 10,000 reputation and, in theory, should be an established member of the community. While a minor quibble, it it something that gives an impression that professional adults don't always care for.1

Beyond the impression of trying to tell the community how to operate, I've also gotten the impression that Stack Exchange, Inc. (SEI) just doesn't care. I seem to recall a comment by the Director of Public Q&A about Meta users being irrelevant because they could "fit in a New York City apartment" which not only contributes to the impression that SEI doesn't care, but that as an organization you are fairly condescending as well. Exacerbating this impression are comments a Community Evangelist2 made about a "eureka moment" regarding Meta... when a Stack Overflow Meta user pointed out the role that Meta plays (with data) back in July 2019 almost six months before SEI had the same eureka moment. For extra irony the analysis links back to the question that has the user analysis as an answer without mentioning it. In the academic circles I travel in, a peer reviewer would rip someone apart for plagiarism for doing that.3

So where does this leave things? I'll be honest, I'm pessimistic about SEI and the Stack Exchange Network in the future. I've actually told junior developers and students that while Stack Overflow is a good place to look things up, they might want to reconsider contributing free labor to a poorly managed for-profit company. My own use of the site has pretty much been limited to passive reading and I'm reluctant to contribute anything beyond Meta posts like this.

Perhaps more importantly, the direction the company has gone, has lead me to recommend against using Stack Overflow for Teams or posting to the Developer Jobs site.4

So to return to the original intent of this post, I'm keeping an eye on the direction that things are going but I really would like to know why the dramatic shift happened in the first place. I'm a fan of project postmortems and I get the impression that there are some lessons to be learned here. For myself at least, that would be a good place to start rebuilding trust in the brand.


  1. To address the one comment that's been getting upvotes, that was intended as a side comment on the direction of where the network has been going. I understand why it was added, but on the same token: "Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions"
  2. I know the network is vast and you can lose track of things, but some roles within the company demand a bit more.
  3. It's debatable if it actually is plagiarism of course, but a manuscript would need to be revised to acknowledge it (e.g., "A similar idea was presented by...").
  4. To give a bit of context, I work at a large organization with over 10,000 employees.
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    regarding the item about not having the "be nice" banner show up for high rep users; there are more than a few very high rep users who are total assholes. Not to put too fine a point on it. – Max Vernon Feb 19 at 17:17
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    @MaxVernon Of course and I can be an asshole myself at times as well. However, it's also something that's condescending to see and gives a bad impression. Also, there's been some research starting to filter out that "nudges" like that don't really have much impact upon people's behavior. – anonymous Feb 19 at 17:23
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    Why did [they] . . . change things in the first place? is exactly what a lot of us are thinking. SO used to be a pretty self-sustaining community. Even with this post, it still feels like we're at the whim of some overlords. We don't govern the SO/SE community any longer - a "head of community" does. That's really the problem. – Qix - MONICA WAS MISTREATED Feb 19 at 18:36
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    They also didn't really follow through on initiatives to better manage expectations of askers and improve the asking experience. Maybe they could also explain why they didn't see this as important enough to invest more resources. – Trilarion Feb 19 at 20:29
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    I would say that plagiarism is a term too strong here and not what really happened afterall. I would say that the July 2019 post is more likely to be some information that was missed by the people who should have read it. This isn't plagiarism, it is just not researching it. And frankly, if I were a data scientist or similar working on SE, I would directly look into extracting numbers from the database, I wouldn't search MSE for something that some random user might had posted about that somewhere. – Victor Stafusa Feb 20 at 5:25
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    @Qix-MONICAWASMISTREATED I think it comes down to two things: increasing pressure on corporate to monetize (due to VC guys knocking on the door), and increasing social media pressure (before the "incident", there were a lot of twitter threads calling out SE as a toxic place for minorities) – Don Thousand Feb 20 at 14:42
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    @VictorStafusa Covered that in the plagiarism aspect in the footnote. As for them not searching StackOverflow Meta... what you wrote supports my argument that they aren't paying attention to what's going on. A data scientist focused on assigned tasks might not have the time, but a Community Manager or other person engaging with the community should have come across it. – anonymous Feb 20 at 16:26
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    Well said. And I'm looking forward to codidact, trying to get involved, maybe we can restore a real community. – TomServo Feb 22 at 1:16
123

It's odd to read an apology for something that you didn't do

Welcome, Teresa.

I want to personally apologize for our actions or inactions, as the case may be, in the past that had a negative impact on our relationship.

I appreciate that sentiment, particularly if it's heartfelt, but you didn't do any of that. Over the past couple of years, some other folks did. Not random people, but decision makers at SEI (or whatever name corporate Stack operates under).

About a month ago, I joined Stack Overflow as Head of Product and Community.

I wish you nothing but the best as you travel this journey uphill, in a snow storm ... and I hope that you can get some change implemented.

Something I'll ask you to consider about the nature of SE/SO: a substantial amount of value that the SE and SO model built and cultivated was donated (for free) by a wide variety of volunteers. I think a lot of people feel both taken advantage of and taken for granted. Burns like that can leave a mark.

Good will is a hard resources to accumulate; when you do "you'll know it when you see it."

We'll know it when we see it coming from SEI. You'll see it in return.
Here's hoping.
And as they say in Missouri: Show Me!

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    Exactly how I feel. It's clever from SO having her apologize, because we don't want to criticize her because again, she didn't do anything. And, that makes us not capable of criticizing the apology when really, it should be coming from the people who made the mistakes. But whatever, these points have been hashed and rehashed, I'll watch happens to SO now with optimistic skepticism. – Don Thousand Feb 20 at 14:58
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    Indeed. It's yet another cynical move by SO. It feels like they hired someone just to be the new "fall guy" – Aaron F Feb 21 at 10:32
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    @AaronF Hmm, not sure. I think the SO position has changed from "damage control" to "repair" and that Teresa has been assigned the repair tasks. (I say this thanks to a few jobs I have had over the years where I walked in to replace the previous person and the assignment was "fix this." ) – KorvinStarmast Feb 21 at 13:29
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    Many companies underestimate the value their users provide, especially when they are basically working for free, providing content or moderating without any pay. They take for granted the very people that make their company possible. Either they treat their volunteers nicely and with respect, or they'll be forced to start paying people to do what these volunteers used to do. – Scott M. Stolz Feb 21 at 16:12
  • @ScottM.Stolz I mentioned something similar to that in this answer regarding the non profit that my brother is still a part of. – KorvinStarmast Feb 21 at 16:18
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    Employees can get disconnected. If 60% of revenue comes from Teams, and 30% from Jobs, then the web community seems to just be a cost sink. In reality, nearly every penny of that income comes as a side-effect of the community's effort in public Q&A, so it's self-destructive to ignore it... but companies show self-destructive behavior all the time. It's like cutting product quality to have more money for advertising. There may be a short gain, but it's followed by a painful collapse. – Ask About Monica Feb 21 at 22:45
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    She may not have done it, but she jumped onto a sinking ship. So she can go down with it as far as I'm concerned. As I've said elsewhere, I've never before seen such a precipitous fall from greatness as I have here over the past few years, and especially over the past few months. And I killed a HUGE (10000+ users) initiative to use Teams because the ship IS sinking. Unlike the OP here, I don't want to be associated with failure. – TomServo Feb 22 at 1:18
  • @AskAboutMonica but companies show self-destructive behavior all the time you can ask my dad about his 7000 shares in GE ... yeah ... – KorvinStarmast Feb 23 at 23:35
  • @TomServo You may be right, but I appreciate any effort to try and patch the leak ... full disclosure, I have had a few jobs where I walked in and the task assigned was "fix this thing ...' – KorvinStarmast Feb 24 at 0:00
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    @KorvinStarmast As have I; in fact most of my career has been pulling others' bacon out of the fire. But it's hard to see this latest sweet-talking as anything but a whitewash PR stunt and disingenuous at its core. The contempt SO executives seem to have grown for the core of the community is manifestly obvious. This is what happens when non-tech types take over. – TomServo Feb 24 at 0:33
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    @TomServo I am cynical enough to suspect that you may be right, and hopeful enough to wish otherwise ... – KorvinStarmast Feb 24 at 0:49
  • @cp.engr a number of non-apology apologies have been issued previously, or differently described, 'official apologies' that rang hollow to a large portion of the engaged users due to actions and words not matching well. As I read through Teresa apologizing for their previous failed attempts at fence mending - that is part of what drove me to write a reply. – KorvinStarmast Feb 25 at 21:13
  • @KorvinStarmast I was meaning to emphasize the first part of your answer, not contradict it. And maybe I was intending it against some other comment, but I don't recall, and don't have time to reread to find it. – cp.engr Feb 25 at 21:17
  • @cp.engr no worries. The point you are making is a good one, and a number of the other answers hit it pretty thoroughly. (I was intending to agree with you with my reply comment, sorry if that didn't come across clearly) – KorvinStarmast Feb 26 at 1:40
113
+700

Welcome, Teresa.

I appreciate your post but you should not be apologizing; you didn't do any of the things that you apologized for; you weren't even with the company.

I feel I should introduce myself, so you have some sense of my investment in the well-being of the company that pays your salary (indeed my investment here is a contribution to that salary, since without a large body of curated answers that generate views, there's simply nobody to advertise to). I have had a StackOverflow account for a little shy of 10 years. I'm a former mod of a StackExchange site, but I resigned from it late last year after more than 4.5 years as a moderator. Network wide I have answered over 4500 questions, for about a quarter of a million reputation, and overall I have an Impact of somewhere around 16 million people reached. In early January I passed 7 years straight (i.e. 2558 consecutive days in a row, literally every day) on my main site -- but since then I have become disengaged and I no longer come every day.

Please be aware that if there is any hint of ill-feeling in what follows none of it is intended to be directed at you; you had nothing to do with the issues, but I feel strongly about them and occasionally my feelings might show through, even as I try to avoid it.

To be honest I have spent some days debating whether or not to even reply to this; I feel that the company has exhausted the last shreds of my preparedness to extend it any further trust, co-operation or goodwill. I simply don't believe in it any more. I don't believe things will get better. I don't think there will be positive actions. I do think there will be plenty of words and there will be some small actions, but I doubt that any of them will be things that make a difference to me. It will require substantial action to change that.

It's not that I don't believe that you in particular want to make things better (or even that in a vague sense that the company as a whole doesn't wish things to be better). It's that I don't believe that the company will allow you to change any of the things that would make me feel like I would again want to contribute regularly, and most especially, that I could again safely act as a moderator.

We will be creating a Moderator offboarding process, including a survey and interviews with departing Moderators. Our goal is to take the time to listen to and understand why a Moderator has chosen to resign and how we can improve the site, processes and policies.

SO well and truly missed that boat. You don't need interviews to know what the problems are already, between questions and answers here and on the various site-metas there's literally hundreds of mods who were jumping up and down, saying more or less the same things over and over, many well before resigning (myself among them; I put off resigning for a very long time). There's been plenty of feedback.

You have a lot of it there right now - months of it (and to an extent, even years of it) - unaddressed issues from serious long term contributors who wanted things to be better.

You don't need to tell us that you'll act on feedback. You can show us what becomes of feedback, it's there waiting for action. Then you won't need to ask, you'll get regular constructive feedback again from people who want the company to succeed, no problem.

your presence and impact is missed.

The company had the opportunity to show me that - to fix things before I resigned, when it was clear I was thinking about it, and other mods had already done so. I expressed myself in clear terms, along with many others. I waited a good while, there was plenty of time. There were lots of opportunities to show me how much that was true.

Then there was another opportunity to fix things even after I resigned. David Fullerton publicly said they would fix them. I waited and waited. They didn't. Instead they delayed until the only action left was for people to lawyer up to prevent further damage to reputations, and that's what happened.

The company even had the opportunity to keep me as an active user after that. I stuck around answering questions. Things got much, much worse; most of the people in the company that I still had any personal trust in are now gone. Nearly every person I felt had any clue at all what this venture was about (from the standpoint of the people that actually generate the content) isn't here and most of the very few that still are here are doing things where I no longer see them, they're cut off from me.

The company quite deliberately walked away from me. Not once but several times. Apparently it was very important to do that -- to breach our trust repeatedly -- because the company chose to burn a heck of a lot of bridges to get to wherever they were trying to go. Why would a mod who felt they had no path left to begin to trust that the company had their back be keen to stick around afterward?

It doesn't seem to me like the company misses my contributions at all; my community has made their feelings very clear, but the company has ignored me. I appreciate your statement, but something very substantial would need to take place to make a difference to the clear impression that I have been given to the contrary.

We value all of your work to keep your sites clean and communities healthy.

I've heard something along those lines for a couple of years now. It's not that I don't believe you, but I no longer believe the company line on this. I can show you more or less the same sentiment many times.

Serious, subtantial action is needed.

We understand the many reasons why you felt that it was necessary to step down,

I feel like you're being sincere, but you only just got here. If that were true of the company, how could things possibly get to the point that they're in now? How could that be possible?

It's not like something suddenly happened and there was simply no chance to make it right. This wreck took months (or in some cases much longer) of doubling down on things that shouldn't have happened between bouts of promising to fix it.

If that's really going to change, show us.

and that it was a painful decision.

Again I appreciate the intent. However, I really doubt anyone who hasn't been in the position of helping build a community every day for many years could really comprehend the level of pain involved, nor how deep the breaches of trust were that precipitated it.

I've literally been using my (otherwise quite valuable) expertise here, adding value to this company for free, almost every single day, for the best part of a decade, helping to support and build a viable community of answerers, in my corner of it.

We are working on many of the issues that influenced your decisions to leave, and we aim to back these intentions up with actions, accountability, and consistent open communication. If you feel that your issues continue to go unaddressed,

To say things remain "unaddressed" at this point would be a very large understatement.

However, the company has made its position crystal clear on many of the main issues I have. They have outright stated they have no interest in fixing any of the things I am most worried about, and meanwhile they've greatly reduced the opportunities to even be heard.

I invite you to post about them on Meta in a respectful way.

I've posted about the problems I have already, here and on the site meta where I was a mod, for all the good it has done.

You have a chance to show us how effective your invitation is -- by all means go read what I (and many others) posted on this meta, and on the meta of the site I moderated. Much has been said over recent months (and indeed for a good while before on this meta by many people). Act on the issues that have been raised. If you are allowed to do it, you will earn back some of the trust that once existed.

Show us.

When something concrete happens, I'll believe there's finally something to be gained by reporting other things that still seem unaddressed.

And if you choose to apply for moderator reinstatement, we look forward to hearing about this as well and to seeing you back on your sites.

I couldn't consider coming back without substantive changes.

Good processes alone are not sufficient, for what should be obvious reasons, but I'll explain it a little.

Keep in mind, for example, that with the removal of a moderator, there were already processes in place, but they were simply ignored.

I see no reason to think that - whatever processes you put in place, no matter how perfect you make them - that when something unusual happens and a company employee just decides they want to, the proper process won't simply be ignored. Again.

And I expect that the company will again just back any such action to the hilt.

I have explained in detail, in a very lengthy post and in shorter doses since, why I don't feel I can act as a moderator any more. I explained some of the issues in September, and in October, and in posts since, and every single issue I had is either no better now or is actively worse now. I do not feel like anyone in the company was listening; they seem very much to be listening to their own PR, or paying much more attention to outsiders on twitter.

Show us how things are different.

We know the processes aren’t perfect yet and you have shared how you would like us to improve them.

Here's an important one: If a moderator is removed without proper process, it makes no sense for them to be subject to any process to get reinstated. The moment it is recognized that proper process wasn't followed, they should simply be reinstated forthwith, with no "process" whatsoever. You can't correct an error by treating it as if it was a correct action.

I agree with you that the process is flawed --- if we're considering a moderator that was correctly removed by proper procedure. It's utterly inappropriate for one that was not.

Anything less than that position is not justice for someone removed without proper process but rather a shameful travesty, a doubling down on company misconduct.

While things stand as they do, I can't trust that what happened to a moderator before wouldn't happen to me. I can't trust that I won't be removed for questioning the practicality of an aspect of a policy, or having personal difficulties with it that may need to be discussed at length (after all moderators are expected to implement policies, they'd better have some ability to question the details and the practicalities of their implementation).

I don't trust the company any more. I can't trust that procedure won't be tossed aside. I saw how easily it happened, and how the company dealt with that egregious breach of trust. I can't trust that I won't be subject to public smears, and with apparently no consequences whatever for the person who did it. I can't trust that one person's interpretation of what company policy might be won't trump decent, humane treatment of any long term contributor. I don't trust that lawyers won't be pulled in at the first sight of any difficulty, and they will certainly prevent the company from doing what is right, even if the company were remotely inclined to do something decent.

Putting processes in place is not sufficient -- we already had processes. What happens when the process isn't followed -- that's one of the places where you can start to rebuild the trust that was lost.

Go ahead and make that issue point 0 of the policy on reinstatement: "Policy 0. If we fail to properly follow the stated policies on removing a moderator, here is how we will fix our error ...".

And then actually show us better policies in action. Show me I can trust the company to do the right thing by us, by showing me how it acts after it recognizes what it did was wrong. Show me what the company does to fix a breach of trust. So far its every action has made me trust it less.

I've been waiting a long time for positive action.

You sound like you mean it, so I'm willing to suspend disbelief one final time. I really want you to succeed.

Show us what all this actually means.

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    Sheesh, I guess I have to post another bounty. I feel like I want to take a highlighter to this. Key points, for me: 1) how can a contributor feel safe from the company itself after Monica; 2) despite everything, a lot of people still want these sites to succeed; 3) we've been talking about this stuff for years, please stop saying you need new input. – jscs Feb 22 at 19:04
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    If I could pick one answer for Teresa to address in detail, it'd be this one. Processes are worthless if you don't use them. Regret without remorse is an insult to the injured. Remorse without restitution is only half a solution. – AmaiKotori Feb 24 at 18:46
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    "with the removal of a moderator, there were already processes in place, but they were simply ignored" - this is a misconception that I keep seeing. There was a process for allowing a team of moderators to remove one of their own, but there was never (until after Monica) a process for how SE employees should handle removing a moderator. Richard/Valorum on SFF in 2015, Masked Man on Workplace in 2018, HopelessN00b on Server Fault in 2015 ... all removed by CMs without any particular "process" being applied. – Rand al'Thor Feb 25 at 17:55
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    @Randal'Thor A valid point that it wasn't mandatory, but "The process may also be initiated by the Community Team at Stack Exchange, Inc...." Seems they could have used it and chose not to. – AmaiKotori Feb 27 at 15:30
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    @Randal'Thor The fact that they ignored the process before doesn't mean it didn't exist. The policy says that it can be used by the Community Team, and that is the only such policy. Without any contrary policy, they are restricted to the only one which exists. It's unreasonable that they wouldn't know publicly shaming a mod was bad form, or that punishing someone for discussing the rules that were not yet in place is not a valid reason to fire someone. They clearly acted with malice, as they otherwise wouldn't have done things that everyone knows are wrong. There's no reason to defend them. – trlkly Feb 28 at 13:13
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    @trlkly Of course they acted badly, but to say "they didn't follow the processes in place" is a false argument because there were no set processes in place for CMs to remove moderators. See: all the previous removals of moderators by CMs, which did not follow that process (no non-employees were consulted before the diamond removals) but also didn't lead to mass resignations across the network. – Rand al'Thor Feb 28 at 13:31
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I guess it's a start.

I'm a MSE mod, and unsurprisingly, that means that I've spent a lot more time than is probably healthy here.

I've also heard a few stories I shouldn't have, and it's worth thinking about the effects recent actions have had, both at a personal level for management level staff and as a company. While I believe assigning blame is still counterproductive, it might do well for some folks to accept and understand the very real consequences of their actions.

I'm aware that there's been a significant amount of attrition, both voluntary and involuntary, and it's often the folks most committed to the community, both in terms of employees, and community members. (And many are both, and some community members might aspire to work for a Stack Exchange they knew cared.)

There's also a handful of communities that drifted away. Many of them have chatrooms dedicated to keeping up with goings on here.

Every loss diminishes us. We probably lost a significant amount of expertise, both in terms of knowledge in the domains our sites serve and in terms of folks who know the Stack Exchange network intimately in recent times.

Trust is hard won. But many of these folks still have close enough ties to the network to care.

Winning that trust needs more than words - it needs actions. And in a community that's been told they don't matter, it might need a grand gesture.

We're battered and bruised - I know at least on MSE - the mods have been taking rotating breaks from the site because we've been hit with waves of drama.

There's been a few bright spots. Despite all of the constraints placed on them, the community team, or what's left of it, has still mostly been doing their best. They lost a lot of folks at once - and yet, despite it all, have been soldiering on.

There are lots of communities and a strong, well resourced and motivated CM team has been pretty high on the wishlist for ages.

Yaakov's been awesome (don't let it get to your head 😁). He's been a pretty good conduit both ways and gets meta. We need more folks like that.

Originally, I was going to give a few suggestions on how to make things better.

Trust is earned, not demanded. It's not bought either. So I figure that I'll trust the folks I know I can trust, and hope that they can get the right things through. So... Trust the people who've been working hard to hold the community together and listen to them. They'll have an idea of what to do if they can speak freely and without fear.

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    The strategy, initiatives & what I said above was very much initiated and influenced from those you mention above and others. That will not change going forward. We are building an organization internally of both those whose official role is to work on Community and those who have strong Community ties to ensure we holistically understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what all the potential impacts will be. I think Yaakov's pretty awesome and all the CMs have been instrumental in understanding the past and deciding how we go forward. Thank you for all your work as a Mod. – Teresa Dietrich Feb 19 at 18:29
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    I don't think that assigning blame is always entirely counterproductive: while it's unlikley to fix a particular problem, it at least lets us at least help to figure out whom to trust and whom not to. And at this point, taking blame would be very productive I think; we now have our third or fourth high-level executive addressing this problem and no way to tell if the CEO and board actually realize how badly they've failed or are simply attempting yet another patch to their tatterred reputation, repeating as necessary. – cjs Feb 22 at 4:38
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    And I've talked about it. I have always felt praising in public and reprimanding in private has always been a more compassionate and positive way to do things. I would rather the folks in question understand where they went wrong and make amends than see their heads in a pillory – Journeyman Geek Feb 22 at 5:33
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    @JourneymanGeek, if the management acknowledged that the last year many actions were mistakes, they need to analyse the failures and clarify who is responsible for them. If the person is unprofessional and doesn’t have abilities for the role, she should not stay on the position that could cause the damage to the company in a future. – Michael Freidgeim Feb 22 at 14:52
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    And yet in focusing on one person, we kind if forget that while these were painful events we view as stemming from a single cause than a series of systematic failures of an organization. We turn the person, and the blame into a distraction from deeper, more fundamental issues. Even if one person was personally responsible, it's a failure of the organization to see, prevent and resolve those issues – Journeyman Geek Feb 22 at 15:51
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    Yaakov's been awesome: Since Monica's unjust firing, I've stepped back most of my interaction with SE but I've noticed that in that time, Yaakov has been working away, improving SE with bug fixes and implementing feature requests without making a big song-and-dance about it while the drama raged around him. It's good to highlight some of the positives and give credit where it's due. – Anthony Geoghegan Feb 27 at 19:45
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This all sounds super great and you sound like a great person.

The problem is that we've gotten apologies and chipper avowed plans to make things better already and they haven't gone anywhere, leading to a lot of cynicism about additional ones.

My Background

I used to be a mod. I am active on Workplace now, and they're doing a mod election, and I refuse to participate because of the repeated contempt SE has shown for the mods (and CMs, and community). I don't participate here on Meta.SE any more, I just saw this pretty much by accident as I clicked through on a night of utter boredom. I'm one of those that has been alienated by SE's actions - to be fair I felt fairly disenfranchised just over years of being a mod and not feeling very supported by SE, but this all made it 100x worse.

What You Can Do

Incremental improvement is fine, but I think the only thing that would make me think SE was at all serious and make me consider any kind of non-arm's-length interaction with SE again is an immediate public apology and offer of unconditional reinstatement to Monica. That would be the single thing you could do, which requires practically zero effort really, that would be a real and concrete act that would let me (and, I suspect, many in the community) feel comfortable with engaging with any of this (whether she accepts or not). I am pretty sure whatever legal agreement exists between you absolutely doesn't prevent going further than what it requires.

Otherwise, to be honest, it seems like a thief sitting on top of his previously stolen loot earnestly saying "well I will never steal again!" It omits the obvious responsibility of making the current things right.

It's About The People

Something to maybe be aware of. A community is made up out of people. Not "processes", not "documentation," not "active next steps," but people. What has happened is there's been a concerted attack from SE central on people that this community cares about. In general there's been negative sentiment shown against the moderators and CMs and Meta users and site users, and in particular there have been active negative actions taken against Monica and Shog9 and Robert and others. "We (probably) won't do that again" is not exactly healing. "We have processes now" isn't healing. We don't care about your process, we care about our people. You have plenty of control over how Monica, and Shog9, and Robert, and all the others are treated right now, they all still exist. You can make all kinds of promises and put together various processes but if you can't do the right thing by our people, no one will care.

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    There's now a legal agreement with Monica, so this might well be impossible. – TRiG Feb 24 at 20:31
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    It is very unlikely that the agreement prevents them from doing more, for example bypassing reinstatement process and just directly offering reinstatement. As I mentioned in my answer already. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 24 at 23:18
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    @TRiG As has been stated by the company here in meta, it didn't prevent them offering her the chance to "apply" for reinstatement, but since the process for reinstatement is entirely their own, surely they can choose not to force her to be subject to it? If they revised that process and it said "if you didn't get a proper process in order to be removed, as soon as we recognize it (which they did already), the reinstatement process is automatic, if you still want it" – Glen_b Feb 25 at 9:00
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    "recognize that you didn't get a proper process (which they did already)" - nope. All that SE published is, in essence "the process has finished, we regret that you don't like the outcome" - nothing else. – Piskvor left the building Mar 3 at 14:54
78

I want to personally apologize for our actions or inactions, as the case may be, in the past that had a negative impact on our relationship. While specific recent events may have individually caused harm, years of neglect and a growing distance from our community lead to those events and it will take conscious effort to repair the damage.

I appreciate you personally apologizing, but since you only just joined about a month ago, you were not involved or responsible for most of those actions or inactions. What would be much more meaningful is if we got sincere apologies from the various people actually responsible. Note I'm not talking about the now-deleted, almost non-apology, from Sara Chipps in An Update to our Community and an Apology, or even the better, but still fairly inadequate, one from David Fullerton in An apology to our community, and next steps. Instead, a sincere apology includes things like explaining why the mistake occurred, what was learned from it, what steps are being taken to avoid having it happen again, what sort of restitution is planned & being done to those harmed, etc. Most importantly, though, appropriate actions need to be taken to help show that the person actually truly regrets the mistake(s) and is taking concrete steps to address them.

Based on the past, I don't expect this to happen. However, if it did, it would mean a lot to me, and I'm sure others here as well. Also, it would help to repair and improve the relationship between the company and the community.

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76

Involving the moderators and the community more in the creation of new policies and features is certainly a good and very welcome thing. But how well this can work depends a lot on the details, and how willing SE is to actually change their minds upon that feedback. Based on some of the previous cases where SE asked for feedback from the moderators in the private Team or in TL I'm not yet convinced that SE is willing to fully commit to this.

Asking for feedback is only truly meaningful if the company is willing to make fundamental changes to the proposed policy or feature, if necessary. Many of the more recent cases where SE solicited feedback from moderator or meta didn't feel like this but more like SE presenting a mostly finished decision. The changes SE made due to the feedback were certainly welcome, but they were often rather shallow. For this feedback cycle to work well the big decisions need to be on the table, a possible result of moderator or community feedback should be a total reworking of a feature or policy or even scrapping the plan entirely. If the main result of asking the mods for private feedback is a bit of polishing of the language, that's not good enough.

I'm not asking for SE to let the community or the moderators have a veto for any decision. But SE shouldn't just present stuff to the moderators after the major decisions have been made.

One major issue with these new initiatives to improve community relations is that the company acted in ways that fundamentally contradicted them. The moderator council has been proposed a while ago, and while it's not that easy to make this work well, I thought that the idea had potential as long as SE could restore at least a bit of trust along the way. What actually happened is that SE fired Shog and Robert, and Jon left on his own. You're putting the remaining CMs in an impossible situation there, they have to convince the moderators that the company is acting in good faith for this kind of initiative to work, and the company just stabs them in the back and makes sure to destroy any remaining trust.

The community team is severely understaffed now, if SE is serious about improving community relations that must change. If you do not change this, you're just setting up the remaining CMs for failure, planning new initiatives is meaningless if there is nobody to execute them properly.

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    From my perspective, I've already seen some movement on responsiveness to moderator feedback (on content, not just messaging), even though initiatives like the moderator council are still in the future. Other moderators may disagree, of course. But yes, the changes in the CM team, both in terms of the expertise lost and the stresses on those who remain, do make it hard to understand the direction. – Bryan Krause Feb 19 at 17:13
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    Given that this is allegedly a community-centric platform/medium/system/etc., I would ask for the community to have veto over certain fundamental things. Otherwise +1. – vicky_molokh Feb 19 at 18:00
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    While I wasn't here through the past situations, I can speak to how we will do it going forward. Feedback is a tricky thing and unstructured feedback is even harder. When we go for feedback in the future, we provide the context for what we are trying to achieve with the proposed action, change, policy and the nature of the feedback we are looking for: red flags, potential negative impacts, will this help us achieve our goal, etc. One of the most frustrating interactions is providing feedback that isn't taken into account. Setting expectations for how the feedback is used will be key. – Teresa Dietrich Feb 19 at 18:57
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    @TeresaDietrich "the nature of the feedback we are looking for: red flags, potential negative impacts" -- so are you in a position to ensure that, in the future, SE won't slander anyone else to the press for politely discussing "potential negative impacts" of a proposed change? – LindaJeanne Feb 21 at 0:03
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    @Teresa Dietrich: Should I take your non-response to my question to be my response? SE slandered someone to the press (!) for asking for clarifications, in a private channel, about an as-yet unimplemented policy (while people who said far worse intentionally trans-phobic things reportedly went un-censured), and never properly apologized for the same. Should we just "move on" without an acknowledgement that (slamming someone in the press for questions asked in good faith on a private channel) was a bridge too far, and an assurance that it won't happen again? – LindaJeanne Mar 5 at 15:52
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    @LindaJeanne Now seventeen days plus another eight days has passed and no response. This is a worry and shows a distinct lack of transparency. The opaque nature of the processes you describe are the opposite of transparency, indeed somewhat Orwellian! – cousin_pete Mar 12 at 16:02
67

One small bit of parting advice... You need to ignore the people who think that getting and responding to feedback from a million junior programmers on SO is more important than feedback from hundreds of highly engaged users across the network.

Turning one “promoter” into a “passive user” or “detractor” will affect SE from a business perspective far more than making a large number of only-here-for-the-answers users happy for a little while. Anyone who thinks otherwise is focused on the wrong metrics.

I think that y’all are undervaluing the communities on the smaller non-technical sites. Those communities are something that can’t be bought, and yet they’re treated like second-class users and have to make do with whatever you develop for Stack Overflow because their feedback is buried in surveys designed specifically for the trilogy. If you’re thinking that web traffic/ads is the way to make money and the smaller public Q&A sites are some sort of side effect instead of something intrinsically valuable, y’all need to stop listening to the bean counters.

SE doesn’t have to focus just on programmers to be successful. SE’s core audience should be the life-long learners, the curious, the teachers and collaborators (in the best sense of the word) regardless of the topic. Others will benefit, but those are the people you should be focused on understanding and serving. Those people, when they band together in a healthy community, solve all the problems y’all are trying to solve with policies and micromanaging how long a post can be featured for and such. The public Q&A part of SO needs to get smaller, not larger. It needs to go from a firehose to hundreds of fountains with benches under shade trees that encourage lingering. SE’s interface is inhumane when it attempts to scale up to millions of visitors a day, and no amount of chastising your users to be nicer, rewording the close reasons, or moderator diversity training will fix that.

I suspect though that SE as a company has moved into that phase where the innovation stops because investors are getting tired of waiting for their ROI. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just sad to see something special paved over.

Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got
til it’s gone?

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    Second the point on the 'non-technical' sites. Those were generally started by people already heavily involved with StackExchange through the main site. They were normal people with a wide range of other interests, and it was perfectly normal to them to take advantage of the platform to create Q&A sites for their hobbies and interests. Impact those other interests, and their interest in the main site will be dramatically diminished. – Jon Custer Feb 21 at 18:01
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    As a SU mod - I've pretty literally been excluded from the SO survey cause I'm not a developer. SF's has a few pretty major incidents of drama with many similarities to past events, and kinda hasn't been the same since. We're often in the same boat, even as technical sites. – Journeyman Geek Feb 21 at 18:19
61

Welcome to meta (and SE in general)! We've briefly had the chance to indirectly talk on comments; after a discussion with Shog9, journeyman geek and a couple of others, I thought I'd ask this question related to the plans of SO/SE.

As I am sure you are aware, a volunteer was fed to the lions/press in the recent past, by name, and to this day, this specter lingers on. I am sure that we can agree, this kind of spotlight, even if it is corrected after the fact, tends to tarnish one's name for a very, very long while.

Shog9 briefly stated a No comment policy on talking to the press; however, I personally deem this to not be clear enough of a statement, and I'm sure I am not the only one to think so. Ever since this, I have stopped helping others completely, because of the fear that, out of the blue, something like this might happen to me. Who did it is irrelevant; after all, everybody makes mistakes. The problem, and the fear I have is that it may still be easy for somebody to do it again.

You've briefly touched on the "safe" and "positive" experience for employees on meta. I would like to ask you if you could consider the "safe" and "positive" experience of the volunteers on this site in and outside of the site as well. As a result, the question I would like to ask you is twofold:

  1. What safeguards were put in place to prevent this kind of feed-somebody-to-the-press event from happening again?
  2. What remediation process is there in the case that it does happen again?

I am sure we can agree that this is important. After all, imagine if this happened to me and a potential employer found the article in the press. This isn't just some small thing - real people could be having real problems due to this, and because it happened once, it's at the back of people's minds and it will be for a while, until there's more than a one-liner about what can and cannot happen. Specifics would be great.

Update from SE: Teresa has posted an official answer to this question, addressing this issue.

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    Strong agree here. Although I'm aware it is shutting the barn doors too late, this is part of the reason for my current user name. – jscs Feb 20 at 17:51
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    Having reflected on it, I can't take any of the new promises seriously given that there still seems to have been no accountability or consequences whatsoever for the senior managers* responsible for breaking all the site's longstanding rules, precedents, principles and trust with that public slandering. (* managers plural: Jon Ericson recently blogged that the decision had been discussed and planned by senior management, excluding the CMs, for days before being carried out: it wasn't the heat-of-the-moment mistake by one individual most of us assumed it was) – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 21 at 0:41
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    Since I went to look it up, here's the link to Jon's blog post. – Michael - Where's Clay Shirky Feb 21 at 1:36
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    And as usual, the uncomfortable replies remain uncommented. Bad sign, especially as it reinforces the usual "nice talk happens, actions continue on previous course." – Piskvor left the building Feb 21 at 13:07
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    I know that Teresa has seen this and that it is on her backlog of items to respond to. We appreciate your patience. And as she defined above with expectation management and context setting, I dont think that we are going to be avoiding talking about tough issues when they are raised in a constructive fashion. – Yaakov Ellis Feb 21 at 13:52
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    @Michael-Where'sClayShirky I think you were looking for 2019 in Review (scroll to the Job section.) – Stop harming Monica Feb 21 at 18:41
  • @Stop Ah, perhaps. Thank you. – Michael - Where's Clay Shirky Feb 21 at 18:43
  • @YaakovEllis: Well - was I not correct? (In an interesting turn of events, my previous comment also seems to apply to your reply to it: "sure, we will X, just give it time"...[tumbleweed.gif]) – Piskvor left the building Mar 3 at 10:54
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    @Piskvorleftthebuilding From the external perspective: you are correct, we have not yet responded publicly to this. From my perspective, being 100% honest: we are in the middle of tons of stuff (two more big MSE posts coming this week). We have a process in place where we are tracking all of the different issues that we want to address. I know that this general issue is on that list. We simply cannot answer every issue in a thorough way at the same time, and do a good job of it. So I am sticking by my first comment here. You can choose to believe what I say or not. – Yaakov Ellis Mar 3 at 11:21
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    @YaakovEllis: Thank you for the response. I have summarized the visible events - that is not a matter of belief or disbelief. Your new comment does sound reassuring; as I have no insight into the internals, I am looking forward to further development. – Piskvor left the building Mar 3 at 12:14
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    @SébastienRenauld: I am literally of two minds on this. On one hand, it sounds nice to apparently have a sympathetic (?) source; OTOH, the similarity to Soviet-bloc-dissent modus operandi is too close for comfort. Thanks for the offer, but I choose plausible deniability. – Piskvor left the building Mar 3 at 12:58
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    @Piskvorleftthebuilding I'm on the same side as you on this; I remain to be convinced, but the possibility to speak with people outside the big machine for a fireside chat isn't a bad thing. Obviously, still words, but it's nice to get an informal heads-up to where things are going. (There's also a few ex-CMs on there, people like shog9, and mods) – Sébastien Renauld Mar 3 at 13:04
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    @SébastienRenauld: Sorry, I explicitly DO NOT TRUST this specific site, or any of its associates, with anything that happens outside of public view. I do not wish to find myself libelled - note under which answer we are commenting. – Piskvor left the building Mar 3 at 14:10
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    (Note that even mentioning the possibility that such things may happen (or have happened) might get both of us labelled "not in a constructive fashion" and "toxic". I am confident in multiple languages, Newspeak is not one of them.) – Piskvor left the building Mar 3 at 14:12
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    Update: Teresa has posted an official answer to this question, addressing this issue. – Yaakov Ellis Jun 16 at 18:48
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May I suggest that instead of asking recent moderators to re-apply that you instead extend the olive branch and offer reinstatement?

This will show positive community action, 'own' the apology and remove the need for those people who are hurt/burnt to go through some needless SE corporate bureaucracy... No need to open old wounds through enforcing that process.

Congrats on your new job!

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    While I understand the feeling, there's been sites where elections took place. Bringing back mods unilaterally may not always be a good approach. Speaking for myself, I wouldn't think reinstatement without my site community and their actual mods approval for example. – Tensibai Feb 20 at 7:02
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    @Tensibai that's how it worked until October, though -- any mod who had stepped down and wanted to come back could do so for the asking. At worst, a site ends up with one more mod than it currently "needs", but that apparently wasn't a concern in the past. – Monica Cellio Feb 20 at 15:15
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    @MonicaCellio I agree, but as things have vastly evolved since last October... I was just pointing out that may create some tensions on some sites, better check with the sites mods if they're comfortable with the idea before offering ? (which doesn't prevent to have a talk with former mods anyway) – Tensibai Feb 20 at 15:20
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    Have any elections even finished since these changes? I know of a couple that just started. It's not like there's been a ton of backfill. – Monica Cellio Feb 20 at 15:22
  • @MonicaCellio Well, I had asked to step down in early september, (first) elections on devops.se took place in October IIRC. Maybe I'm just a snowflake, it just sound common sense to me anyway to not enforce a decision on a site community. – Tensibai Feb 20 at 15:26
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    Well, there are a few mods on a few sites which I'm relieved that they resigned (I won't name, I don't want to make it personal) and I really don't want to see reinstated. Also, I'm sure that I'm not the only one with that opinion. So, I think that some process is surely needed to avoid bringing back a few rotten apples that fell together with a lot of good ones during the storm. – Victor Stafusa Feb 20 at 16:28
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    I think the reinstatement process is very important. When someone is elected mod, they're most often new to moderating. No one who's voting for them really knows what the result will be. However, once they've stepped down, there's a history that future decisions should take into account, and I believe the reinstatement process is a good way to solve that. I do feel more of the process should be handled by the person's peers (the mods of the site they stepped down from,) but I also have no issue with the CM team having veto power over any decision they make (this is a business after all.) – user400654 Feb 20 at 16:29
  • @MonicaCellio Despite all of the convoluted steps in the reinstatement process, I am not aware of anyone who has applied for reinstatement who hasn't gotten it. Most of the steps are pretty common sense. – Bryan Krause Feb 20 at 16:39
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    @BryanKrause Go through the SO Meta Room chat transcript a couple of days or so (I believe it was). There is such a person... It won't be too hard to find as it was one of the few exchanges amid the "New Feeds" one-boxes this past week... – Cindy Meister Feb 21 at 6:03
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    I think a heartfelt apology, admitting that SO screwed up big time, and automatic reinstatement is key to moving forward successfully. Anything less means that the legal ass-covering still trumps doing the right thing. – David Thielen Feb 21 at 13:06
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    Anything the corporate honchos do now, even extending the olive branch, would be so tainted as to have no meaning. They have negative credibility and would only "apologize" and "make it right" because they saw no face-saving alternative. That's no improvement at all -- they are simply, at this point, beyond redemption. – TomServo Feb 22 at 1:30
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I have been here for a decade, answered a few questions on SO and a few SEs. Not the highest profile user, nor the lowest. I know I am a small cog. I had a downright absurd, abrupt, weird, disconcerting Twitter chat with a SE board member which led me to say I do not know what's going on and I truly don't. I read basically one side of the happenings. And while I grumbled on Twitter I haven't joined the fray on Meta until now.

But I know one thing. I know there is one sentence that is missing and you will not be credible until that sentence isn't missing.

That is "We apologize to Monica."

You (SE Inc) did drag her name through the mud, and didn't apologize to her in public.

We are waiting.

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    I downvoted this because, not because I don't want Monica to be reinstated (if she wants), but because I think this isn't constructive now. They are listening now. Use this chance for incremental improvement over continuous complaints is what I think is most useful now. (So no automatic/suspicious stuff, just that I'm reading fast) – MEE Feb 19 at 22:26
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    Maybe you read it too fast and missed the word credible or perhaps my post wasn't clear enough, I am a bit old fashioned, I know, let me try the new fashion: Press F for doubt. F F F F F F. – chx Feb 19 at 22:41
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    (It's "X to doubt" or "Press F to pay respects".) Anyhow, upvoted! The Monica C. question is critically symbolic to anyone who's paid much attention in the past few months. If Teresa can convince Corporate to reinstate her (even if Monica doesn't accept the offer) then there is distinct hope. Otherwise? It's hard to say. – SeldomNeedy Feb 19 at 22:48
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    There has been a (legal) line drawn under this, so don't expect to hear any more from SE Inc on the subject. Endlessly demanding more from SE Inc is pointless. If Teresa wants to take up Monicas' offer, then great, but don't expect to hear about that either. – chris neilsen Feb 19 at 23:08
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    for some of us that is the problem (MC Situation). They didn't follow their own rules?!?!?! So what are we now to expect them to follow something else...until the decide again to not because <whatever excuse needs to go here>?!?!? It called lack of integrity/trust which is not given but earned. As everyone else has literally stated, actions speak louder than words. This stuff is not rocket science........just common sense. – Sorceri Feb 19 at 23:26
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    Monica's question is for what we as normal users can know, solved. Maybe not in the way we wanted it, but since there is a legal agreement between Monica and SE and most of it is confidential, we can't really hope for having anything better than that, not even some comment on the issue from Monica herself. Struggling at this as an user is pointless because both parts already have an agreement on the issue and are bound to it. – Victor Stafusa Feb 20 at 5:48
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    @VictorStafusa Monica has explicitly stated that she is still open to dialogue and waiting for the corporation to take appropriate steps that are outside the scope of the agreement (i.e. not prohibited by the agreement). The situation isn't closed, and nobody should throw Monica under the bus in this huge mess. – vicky_molokh Feb 20 at 9:30
  • @vicky_molokh Surely, nobody should throw Monica under the bus. However, although Monica can still talk to SE and vice-versa, it appears that neither one can talk anything further about the incident in public due to legal reasons, so there is no point demanding them to do so. If there is still something to be resolved on the issue, it is probably solely to be done by both the parties in private. Then, random users in the internet have no stake on this anymore, so let's move on. – Victor Stafusa Feb 20 at 16:15
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    @VictorStafusa Odds are high that a genuine dialogue can result in a mutually-agreed-upon revision of the agreement, the result of which we would see. There are also other actions (and statements) that are, as far as we have been told, not prevented by the agreement, nor would be possible to keep secret. So it's not like there's no way forward. It's that the Stack-Corp doesn't want to. So let's never use the word 'solved' as a descriptor of the current situation, because that implies stopping the pressure on the MC front (the bus-throwing I mentioned). – vicky_molokh Feb 20 at 17:31
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Welcome to Meta!

We are encouraging employees to be active within the community, both officially on metas and for fun in their areas of expertise or interest, and will be providing simple guidelines and a helpful FAQ for employees in the next week.

I'm really happy to see this. I know a number of us have complained of a lack of employee presence on the sites themselves, which certainly hasn't lessened the community/company disconnect. It lends a humanity to the company which, to be honest, has been missing for a while now. I hope to see employees visiting sites across the network for the fun of it - and I know they'll be quite welcome wherever they show up.

I personally commit to reading and responding within Meta at least once a week going forward

That's very much appreciated; I would have hoped that folks in the company would be doing this anyway, but seeing it said explicitly is nice. That said, I also hope you'll consider looking at various per-site metas from time to time. With 170+ sites, checking in on a given site with any regularity is obviously impossible, but then again, there's usually not much for you to see on, say, HSM. But . . . I think maybe keeping an eye on the per-site metas would provide you with interesting insights, like the meta posts made by departing or striking moderators and other discontented users.

If you feel that your issues continue to go unaddressed, I invite you to post about them on Meta in a respectful way.

This is also good to hear - but I'll echo what others have said, which is that many folks have articulated their feelings already, and I hope that the existing feedback, too, won't remain unheard.

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    "I hope that the existing feedback, too, won't remain unheard." ty, +1, whatever. ;^) Lots of manager speak in that OP imo. This missed a great chance to say, "I read [this existing thread Y] and plan to do X about Y to effect Z. Hold me accountable if Z isn't achieved," & to do that for many iterations of XYZ. Instead we get a non-specific apology & lots of [again, pretty non-specific] management speak about goals & initiatives going forward. Learn and address your past directly or you're doomed to repeat it. Aka, "Indistinct word vomit about future rainbows & bunnies isn't progress" – ruffin Feb 19 at 18:24
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My name is Teresa Dietrich. About a month ago, I joined Stack Overflow as Head of Product and Community.

Kinda funny. When I heard about you joining SE Inc. in that position, and your past history, my very first idea was "maybe it would be helpful to send you a private, short, polite message on Twitter, just to indicate that there might be point of views you don't hear about from your new peers in SE Inc management". But then I reminded myself that your past history shows that you are the kind of person who figures such things all by yourself.

I am very glad it worked out this way!

Definitely a great start, I just wish this new fresh tune from a new SE Inc. employee ... wouldn't sit in the shadow of the resource actions some weeks back.

We are encouraging employees to be active within the community, both officially on metas and for fun in their areas of expertise or interest, and will be providing simple guidelines and a helpful FAQ for employees in the next week.

That one can't be "over" emphasized. I really invite every SE Inc. employee to go try it. Interacting with "the community" isn't always easy, but when you scroll down to the final paragraph of this answer, you might find the gold standard on how to have a good, constructive time here.

To all of the moderators who have resigned or suspended your activities over the past few months: your presence and impact is missed.

Hear, hear. Of course, it has to be seen if "your" position (about the proposed processes, even improved ones) can ever lead to the step that so many people still hope for: seeing Monica Cellio to be reinstated, without further delay, fuzz, politics.

Finally: this is a really great start. But let's be honest: we have read nice great words here before. At some point, without corresponding actions, great words turn hollow and pathetic.

I very much hope that this won't happen here. Instead, I wish you success in moving your ideas forward. And as long as you do that openly and transparent, without a hidden agenda, rest assured: we will be listening, and contribute. You see, even if we dislike this or that idea, as long as you are honest about the why and what, we will listen.

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    I find it hard to imagine they will go out of their way to reinstate Monica, even though all parties are in tacit agreement that she was wronged. Reinstating her would mean having to deal with cognitive dissonance and scrutiny from the media, which SO seems to want to avoid. – Don Thousand Feb 20 at 15:00
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    @DonThousand The same that was started by bad-mouthing Monica in the press? – Ismael Miguel Feb 20 at 16:38
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    @IsmaelMiguel True, I'm not defending their actions, but they realized very soon that the media isn't their friend. – Don Thousand Feb 20 at 16:38
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    They have probably thought that the legal resolution meant that the issue with Monica was resolved. It wasn't, obviously, because the community is not composed of lawyers, but of human beings. Rather, the legal arrangement simply closed off even more avenues to actually fix the problem. Trust can only be regained slowly over time, and only if SE demonstrates that they are no longer the same company that made those ridiculous and unprofessional decisions. I hope Teresa is evidence of a commitment to a new direction, and not just a distraction or sacrificial lamb. – Ask About Monica Feb 21 at 22:25
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Welcome. While this might seem to be beating a dead horse, I don’t think you will be able to regain the trust of the community without first repairing the most famous instance of betraying that trust: removing Monica’s diamond. I don’t want to appear insensitive, but I can’t imagine what damage (to an individual, to an agenda, or to the organization) that SE thinks would occur that would be so great as to outweigh regaining community trust, if that trust or the community was valued.

The only conclusion I can come to that makes any sense, is that neither the trust nor the community itself is seen as valuable.

PS: it’s good to see something that doesn’t look it was written by lawyers trying to avoid admitting that something negative might have happened, somewhere, sometime, to someone.

PPS: If the above is a failure of my imagination, then please clearly state what SE believes would happen that is so terrible if Monica’s status were restored.

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    I don't think she has the power to do anything in the regard. There are too many people with reputations on the line at SO, and too many lawyers involved. – Don Thousand Feb 20 at 15:05
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    I think that due to the legal agreement, neither part can meaningfully tell or act on anything further about the incident with regards to the other part. So, it is very likely beating a dead horse. – Victor Stafusa Feb 20 at 16:36
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    @DonThousand: the “you will” was referring to corporation, not the poster. The corporation has the power, we will see if it has the desire. – jmoreno Feb 20 at 21:08
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    @VictorStafusa: given that the offer to request reinstatement was not withdrawn, I do not believe they cannot legally act. They chose, and continue to choose, not to. I will admit that it is possibly they have real concerns and are prevented by the settlement agreement from stating their concerns, but if so, that makes the offer of considering a request to reinstate a lie to the community. Because if they legitimately have such concerns they are going to deny any such request. – jmoreno Feb 20 at 21:23
  • neither the trust nor the community itself is seen as valuable It's not hard to see why. The meta community is tiny. Out of everyone using SO, only an abysmally low percent of people actually know about the controversy and drama happening. As long as there is new flesh asking and answering questions, they will have traffic on their site. There's no reason for them to care about these issues at all. Which is why they're virtue signaling by hiring a new person to "fix things" (who in truth has no actual power and was only hired to placate people for a while longer). – Legxis Feb 21 at 10:55
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    @Legxis: which would make this post a lie told to the community. And I think think collectively the posters to just this thread probably represent a few million points of rep. That’s a lot of people helped. – jmoreno Feb 22 at 11:03
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Welcome.

I'm an ex-mod who resigned early in the "fracas". I want to reiterate that I had multiple reasons for resigning, primary among them was the loss of trust I have in Stack Exchange the company. In short, I had "always assumed" that my duties as a moderator put me in a vulnerable position with the community - dealing with the occasional volatile or disruptive user, and having to make tough calls where you cannot make everyone happy inevitably leads to high emotions, and upset users. In short, we put ourselves on the line (for no pay) to do the job as a moderator, and the expectation is there that when things are tough, that the company, its community managers, and other moderators would help, support, and defend, as necessary.

That last one, defend is critical. When shit happens, I expect that Stack Exchange will defend the moderators it puts in that vulnerable position. Obviously... within reason - but a moderator behaving reasonably should be held in the protection of the organization.

A lot of things happened when Monica was "fired", but what struck me most, is that Monica needed protection FROM Stack Exchange. Stack Exchange BECAME the threat.

Your note about reaching out to previous moderators is encouraging me to write this, since your post appears to be sincere (thanks for that, it's appreciated).

So, for me, to consider returning as a moderator I think there are 3 things that need to happen:

  1. marked shift in the tone of interaction between Stack Exchange and the moderators - no idea of how this happens - SE sort of screwed things up royally and it's kind of hard to fix. I don't even think forgiveness is happening in the (ex) moderator community yet, and certainly not close to forgetting.... Trust is an elusive thing, so hard to get, and so easy to lose.... and almost impossible to restore once gone. I can't help but compare it to trying to trust a dog that bit you before.
  2. time - it will take a while before the actions that Stack Exchange takes can set a new trend that can be "trusted" to be improving, to the point where re-establishing such a relationship is realistic.
  3. a formal agreement, including legal protections for both the moderator, and SE in the event of disagreement, etc. The "Moderator agreement" is no longer sufficient for me to consider "reapplying" for a moderator position. It's a 1-way "contract" and does not specify limits on behaviour, procedures, obligations, or expectations in the event of issues.

So, I hope that gives you a sense of what at least one ex moderator would consider a viable path forward for Stack Exchange ... should you want me to consider returning.

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    A dog's biting you is so serious and nigh-unforgivable that sfaik in civilised society you'd usually euthanize the dog or give it a better owner. Of course puppies might bite too, not exactly the same case. – ChrisW Feb 21 at 15:00
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    Speaking of "defending" mods, we should not forget the ca-Twit-strophe of bus-throwing from a year prior to Monicagate (chronicled by Monica here: medium.com/@cellio/…). – jscs Feb 21 at 16:46
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Thank you for writing this, and welcome to Meta.

From Our Theory of Moderation, Revisited,

Someone wise once said that if you write it down, you’re less likely to forget. And um… that seems pretty clearly correct. So, to all 600+ of the people that make our sites work every single day – thanks for everything you’ve taught us, and for everything you do every day.

You've written "it" down twice now. Let's try not to forget a second time.

I am also glad to finally see a response to the open letter created back in October. You seem to have addressed most of the issues brought forward to the best of your ability... But as many other answers are mentioning: Actions speak far louder than words.

I have one other concern. It has to do with the recent release of Community Managers, as well as Jon's departure.

What are your plans for structuring the community management team? We've obviously built a strong bond with the recently released Community Managers. What are your plans for rebuilding that bond in your future community management team? Are you going to hire more CM's? Is there some other solution you have planned?

I wish you all the best in your new role as Head of Product and Community, Teresa. I hope you enjoy your visits to meta, even as I and many others look forward to your words being put into action.

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    As a moderator, part of the harm I have felt is learning that our community management team has been significantly depowered, their role apparently made into one of corralling users rather than as community ambassadors. The moderators and community rely on the CMs to get things done. We need them to be empowered to do what they're good at. We need this ratcheting situation—and the ideas that have lead to it—to be recognised as self-destructive and dispelled. – doppelgreener Feb 19 at 17:13
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    All of the current internal Community folks are now part of my organization. We are currently working through defining the framework for the work they do: tactical, operational and strategic and how they have impact. Through defining this and the Community Roadmap initiatives we will have a better sense of how many people we need to be successful and what skillsets/background they should have. We will also have the information to justify more people if needed. So my best answer is we are figuring it out together as a team. – Teresa Dietrich Feb 19 at 18:39
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    @TeresaDietrich Thanks so much for the reply, it seriously means a lot. Best of luck to you and your team moving forward. – Spevacus Feb 19 at 18:45
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    @TeresaDietrich The justification is already clear. For example, the dozens of sites that need new elections but can't have them because only one current CM knows how to run them fully. How soon until we see job postings for new CMs? – curiousdannii Feb 19 at 21:51
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    @TeresaDietrich you say you're at SE since about a month ago - which roughly coincides with the timing of two very important CMs being let go. Was that already part of your actions as head of the community team? Or were you hired after the fact? – l4mpi Feb 20 at 10:11
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    @TeresaDietrich: Over the last few years the CM team has been whittled down from 14 to 6. As the team got smaller, we were asked to justify the work we were doing. It seems to me that we had already hit the limits of that strategy before Robert and Shog were let go. I'd encourage you to consider the size of community management teams on networks of similar size to Stack Exchange/Overflow. Even given the amazing work volunteer moderators do for the sites, I can't see how the current CM team isn't understaffed by an order of magnitude or more. – Jon Ericson Feb 20 at 17:40
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    It's also worth considering that that's a direct, tangible and fairly immediate investment that could be made in the community. The CM team we have now, taking into account Jeff being terribly hands on, is roughly the size the team was in its infancy. I'd also say that to a significant extent, one of my reservations with devolution of decision making to mods - say through the mod council is that it could be used to freeze or shrink the CM team. That the team is overworked and stretched thinner and thinner is a significant concern of many in the moderator community. – Journeyman Geek Feb 21 at 0:20
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    @TeresaDietrich Perhaps rather than reaching out to the people who are left, you should reach out to the people who have left to see what they think. As Jon pointed out above, there were 14 of us a few years back and that's been whittled down. Rather than just trying to figure out what the "tactical, operational, and strategic" value of the remaining CMs is, why not also take a look at what changed to get to the point where the organization doesn't understand the role CMs play in the relationship with the community? – jmac Feb 21 at 1:09
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Thanks for taking the time to provide a response, Teresa.

I'm going to be honest here. The last time we went down this road, with the CEO communicating with us, I felt like there was something at least positive.

Then, it felt like the Meta community was blindsided in a horrible way. Any standing equity I felt like I had evaporated overnight.

To say that I'm bitter about how things turned out might be is an understatement. I truly feel like I've tried and tried and tried and tried again to feel like I could engage with the company on a number of issues that have hit Meta...all to just ultimately acquiesce on the current state of things and just let the chips fall where they may.

It's gotten to the point where I truly feel that the credit and good will of Stack leadership is so far in the red, that even this statement - which, and I do want to stress that I believe it to be earnest and in good faith - can't really convince me that y'all are serious about committing to Meta.

In its current state, I can't give you the loan that you're asking for. You're asking me to trust the company, and I don't believe that I can do that without getting let down betrayed burned again. I've been beaten and battered for far too long now, and I'm just tired of all of this.

I'm over the talk.

But I suppose I'm crazy, and I'm willing to give y'all one more chance. I believe that if you guys took one deliberate and explicit action right now, I could give you the loan you're seeking. This would prove that you're really committed to us, our community and you're not just trying to establish whole profits on our labor of love.


The "new" homepage - the unauthenticated experience that users get when they first come to Stack Overflow - is truly jarring. It turns our site from a place about Q&A into a marketing tool. There's plenty of feedback to chew through here, so I won't rehash it.

But.

I feel like if you guys take action and pull that out of production for a little while - at least until the community and the company can reach a reasonable middle ground on what the actual goal is with unauthenticated users - then I can truly believe that you're willing to re-engage.

If that's too much, then at least find a better example of Stack Overflow "Supporting open source". Enough open-source projects like Spring leverage Stack Overflow as a common place for Q&A; surely the company can draw from better, less controversial examples.

Take one of these actions (or both), and sure, I'll back the loan of faith you're looking for in all of this.

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    That landing page is horrible, something only a disconnected marketing manager could love. Removing it would benefit company and user alike. It would be a good test to see whether SE could actually do a simple, obvious, mutually beneficial change. So many of their recent mistakes had no-brainer solutions that they just refused to do, out of misplaced pride or just misunderstanding the circumstances and consequences. – Ask About Monica Feb 21 at 21:32
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    That's a question of corporate culture, and is probably driven top-down by the CEO and executive staff. Do they double-down on mistakes, refusing to change course and admit error, or are they flexible enough to correct problems before they escalate? That's why I don't hold specific individuals at SE fully to blame... they were probably acting as they were expected to act. It's tough for an organization to change course, so I wish Teresa all the best. It will require determination. – Ask About Monica Feb 21 at 21:41
42

Some thoughts on initiatives:

Initiatives Launched:

We have continued to publish “The Loop” monthly to share the UX research and product exploration going on within the Product, Design, Community and Engineering teams within the company. We will continue to solicit feedback through The Loop as well.

The initial run wasn't exactly well received and generated lots of questions on its purpose and intent

We have established what we believe are clear and open guidelines to deal with situations where moderators may need to have their privileges revoked or to be reinstated. We know the processes aren’t perfect yet and you have shared how you would like us to improve them. We’ll be reviewing your feedback and work to incrementally improve these processes for transparency. Our goal is a set of procedures that work to protect all users, the Community as a whole, and the company while being respectful of our moderators.

Again, the "Here's our glorious Edict" left a sour taste: Review Feedback post

We have released an updated Privacy Policy that incorporated feedback from Community Managers along with a meta post for questions and discussion that accompanied the update.

This one feels more business and legalese. Ironically, the post privacy-policy-updates-feb-2020 which has a couple of discussion points has only 1 form of communication which effectively kicks the can down the road to "the near future". If you're just going to tell us and ignore questions for clarification then post it as a blog.

Initiatives in Progress:

We have defined a standard process for new policy or process review that includes Community Managers, employees who are long-time community members, and Moderators before being shared and put into place. Our plan is to provide new policies to the planned Moderator Council for feedback periods before they are made official. We will then share it with all Moderators through the Stack Moderators Team for advance notification. We value the deep understanding that moderators on the network have of their communities and users, and welcome honest, respectful feedback from the greater Stack Exchange Community.

I want to stress that "before being shared and put into place" feels like one of the problems we've been talking about. It's fine if moderators are involved in a sort of alpha stage approach, but not opening up to meta/community for additional feedback before you "share AND put into place" is one of those pain points, we can't feel heard if you just keep making announcements.

We are encouraging employees to be active within the community, both officially on metas and for fun in their areas of expertise or interest, and will be providing simple guidelines and a helpful FAQ for employees in the next week.

Good

We are defining our commitment to responding to Meta posts & Moderators questions through our new standard process and will be sharing that with a group of Moderators for feedback. We will share it with you all within the next two weeks.

I find it a bit off that "responding to the community and mods" requires a standards process

We have drafted our followup and clarification on the Content Licensing issue and will be publishing that within the next two weeks.

Good, I know this is a sore spot

We will be creating a Moderator offboarding process, including a survey and interviews with departing Moderators. Our goal is to take the time to listen to and understand why a Moderator has chosen to resign and how we can improve the site, processes and policies. We will send this survey to the recently-resigned moderators so that their suggestions can be considered.

I'm not sure why you need to send them a survey, almost all of them left feedback in a "why I'm resigning" post. Listening more would have prevented the need for all that offboarding in the first place.

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    "I find it a bit off that "responding to the community and mods" requires a standards [sic] process" - I believe the idea is that, before now (at least in the recent-ish past), their responses to and participation in meta and other feedback channels has been inconsistent at best... And thus, "standardizing" the process effectively means "figuring out a process that ensures we [SE Inc.] are regularly reading and responding to Meta posts and moderators' questions". That's just my interpretation, though. – V2Blast Feb 19 at 21:40
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    Also: "I'm not sure why you need to send them a survey, almost all of them left feedback in a "why I'm resigning" post." - I think many mods that have resigned, whether recently or further back, do not fully share their thoughts publicly when they resign, either for personal reasons or to avoid drama (or some other reason) - and also because some of that may relate to things that occurred in private channels (e.g. the TL and the Stack Mods team). SE reaching out privately to them for feedback is important too. This also applies going forward, not just to mods who resigned in the past. – V2Blast Feb 19 at 21:42
  • (Of course, words may differ from actions, but I'm just clarifying what I think Teresa is trying to say. It remains to be seen whether SE Inc. will follow through. Sorry for the multiple comment notifications :P ) – V2Blast Feb 19 at 21:44
  • @V2Blast I can understand the use of the survey for future events on moderation resignation, but there is a bit to be gleaned from the various metas where that information is posted as well, I think your interpretation is probably correct on feedback standards BUT much like moving from "be nice" to complicated documents, "just answer questions on meta" needs several reams of paper now – Culyx Feb 19 at 21:46
  • I of course hope they follow through, and no worries =D – Culyx Feb 19 at 21:47
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    @V2Blast You are on point. It is a commitment to how much we will respond and how regularly with some details on how we will ensure we meet our commitments. – Teresa Dietrich Feb 20 at 0:11
  • @TeresaDietrich that's good to know, thanks for communicating that with us! – Culyx Feb 20 at 15:50
42

I'm a user who tends to find things that already exist here. I'm not active on meta, and I hardly ever ask questions and answers. There are many users (many of them who are active on meta) who can provide answers much better than I can.

That said, I've been watching and waiting since November or so, to see how SE handles what has been occurring. I haven't been vocal, I haven't made my opinion known until now. I suspect my opinion may reflect other users who haven't spoken up, so I'm going to tell you.

For the past few months, I've been ashamed of SE. I have some SO/SE related stuff (t-shirts, water bottle, etc.) that I've been actively not using in public because of how this has gone, and I can't support a company who would treat its volunteers, and employees the way it has. It's wrong, it needs to change, and wrongs committed by SE need to be properly righted.

Teresa, I truly wish you the best of luck fixing things that are broken, but that requires SE to stop trying to sweep problems under the rug. Stop pretending that your core community (of which I'm definitely NOT a part of), here on meta doesn't matter. They matter more than most other users who use this site in my opinion. To be fair to you, this very post looks like a step in the right direction. Whether there will be real action behind these words remains to be seen.

As things stand, unless you do something drastic, I'm awaiting an alternative, non-corporate site to be developed. I suspect there are others who haven't been speaking up who feel the same way. I'm tired of reading from certain SE employees about how it's just a small vocal minority who disagrees with SE. That attitude will ruin the company, and employees who publicly express those opinions need to be kept in check. It almost seems like it's the opposite problem: there's a small vocal minority of SE employees who disagree/dislike the community.

This was harsh, and I'm sorry for that, but I assure you that I only spoke up now because I feel you may actually be sincere, and I felt that I needed to emphasize how dire this situation is. If it was some other unnamed individuals posting this, I wouldn't have bothered to respond.

This post is definitely critical of SE, but it is also an appeal to SE to fix things, so I hope it's taken in that spirit.

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    I think there a lot of people that have been silently observing from the sidelines and feel the same. I use and contribute sparingly, but I absolutely value what SE is/used to be - I have voted on meta posts, but haven't voiced my opinions because I'm not active enough to feel they are justified over members who have years invested and actually moderate/clean/etc. Still, until things are mended, I don't care to invest time in it. – OnStrike Feb 24 at 17:21
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    @OnStrike I figured the meta/high rep users would be enough to make SE think twice about what they've been doing as well, but I keep seeing indications that SE is trying to label them as a "small minority", so I figured I would lend them my voice too, in an effort to show it's not just the "small minority" meta users who have a problem with what they've been doing. We'll see if it helps. – Chris Feb 24 at 17:32
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    @OnStrike I feel the same way. I don't usually comment or contribute to meta, but I'm following, almost daily. And I assume there are many like me doing the same thing. I don't have anything new to say, so I use my upvote to show I agree. I used to think that my upvote (or downvote) counted, but now I'm not so sure. – Winks Feb 24 at 17:54
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    "I have some SO/SE related stuff (t-shirts, water bottle, etc.) that I've been actively not using in public because of how this has gone" ... yeah I used to wear my t-shirt with pride, and feel cool when someone recognized it. Since around the start of october I can't bear to wear it any more. It makes me sad to even look at it. – Glen_b Feb 25 at 8:39
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    I used to be a big supporter of SE, recommended various site to lots of people, had some merchandise I used regularly etc. Now it’s all very much the opposite. The free advertising is no more and if anyone brings up SE I caution them about what has happened. – Notts90 supports Monica Feb 25 at 10:01
39

Thank you.

We will also provide as much context as we can for policy, decisions, and actions that we take within legal and regulatory constraints - we want you to understand why we’re making changes, not just that we’re making them.

In the spirit of this desire, I have a question.

Increase Community Engagement -

  • Though our active user base continues to grow, our engagement has remained the same. What this means is that while more users are coming to the site every month, the number of users who engage meaningfully in the site does not increase proportionally.
  • To change this dynamic, we will balance investing in improving our tools and features that benefit our long-term users with initiatives that convert new users into engaged ones.

When I read this, it appears to me that there's a fundamental misunderstanding underlying the desire to increase engagement. So why is this a goal?

The ideal use case for Stack Overflow is that I have a problem, I search for relevant questions, and I quickly arrive at an existing answer that provides the missing information I needed. When I'm trying to solve a problem on the clock, I don't want to spend an hour writing a good question. I don't want to spend three hours hunting down the information and posting an answer about it. I want the information to already be there in an easy to digest format.

While we addicts... I mean, more active participants take pleasure in adding to the knowledge base, most people aren't willing to spend a lot of time on doing that. (Hence the quality problems we observe on a daily basis.) They're here to get an answer, not create answers for other people to consume. They'll be much happier if they can get their answer and be on their merry way with as little effort as possible, and reading an answer is a whole lot less effort than writing an entire question, waiting for someone to answer, and then evaluating whether that answer is correct and applicable. If SO is succeeding at its core mission, then we should expect to see this sort of engagement to decrease rather than increase.

So why do you want to increase their engagement?

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    "reading an answer is a whole lot less effort than writing an entire question" Maybe searching for the answer first is the point where they fail. The people who have a problem with their code may have only little understanding of their problem and then also may not be able to find existing answers. Maybe using SO as help desk is the easiest option for them. It may come down to SO is not a good fit for absolute beginners. – Trilarion Feb 20 at 8:32
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    @Trilarion I tend to think so, but I think it's worth being open to being convinced that we're wrong. However, it seems like that is not a problem SO is interested in collecting data on and studying. They have latched onto this idea of increasing engagement, which appears to me to be presupposing a solution before understanding the problem. Since explaining the "why" is now stated as a priority, I'd like an explanation of how they arrived at that solution. – jpmc26 Feb 20 at 8:35
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    engagement = ad-revenue (not saying that as if it's a bad thing - companies want to make money) – NKCampbell Feb 20 at 21:48
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    @NKCampbell I would have thought views = ad-revenue. Why do people have to add content to the site for that? – jpmc26 Feb 20 at 21:49
  • sure - but also creating new content means longer time spent on pages (ads recycle) which also drives new views from others – NKCampbell Feb 20 at 21:52
  • I'm with jpmc on this one @teresa-dietrich in that it doesn't make sense what your team deems as engagement. – jcolebrand Feb 21 at 21:15
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    @NKCampbell That's one hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that large quantities of lower quality and less useful content mean that the content people are looking for is more difficult to locate, which means lower Google rankings and thus less traffic, particularly less traffic from the people needing information. That would also imply that increased engagement would not last over time. That is the hypothesis SO was built upon. So the question becomes why did they adopt a different one as a guiding principle? – jpmc26 Feb 21 at 22:20
37

Thanks so much for posting this. I appreciate the sentiment that you say that you are listening. For most of us, this is something we have yet to see from SE, but I'm hopeful to hear you saying this at the very least. Let's keep this conversation going.

I want to personally apologize for our actions or inactions, as the case may be, in the past that had a negative impact on our relationship. While specific recent events may have individually caused harm, years of neglect and a growing distance from our community lead to those events and it will take conscious effort to repair the damage.

Thank you for apologizing. For the past few months, it felt like SE believed they had done nothing wrong or that they were not accountable to the community. This statement is the beginning of an apology -- for the first time in a while, it almost sounds like SE is acknowledging that they have made mistakes recently. I respect and appreciate that.

However, we need a more specific apology to understand what this site will look like going forward. What specific actions or inactions are you apologizing for? The treatment of Monica, the unexplained removal of community managers, and the boilerplate responses thus far, etc., have each wounded the community. The community sees each of these instances as mistakes by SE that demonstrated directly that Stack Exchange was not interested in listening to us. Each issue requires specific and clear language for us to know if we can trust SE to not repeat these actions again. For instance, in the removal and subsequent treatment of Monica, SE did not follow their stated process, modified the process without explanation or clarification, and directly harmed her through other actions. How can we be sure that SE will not behave like that again?

If SE does not see these instances as mistakes and will not apologize for them -- if SE will handle these kinds of situations in the same (or similar) ways if they were to happen again -- it's better for everyone if you could just tell us that now. The community needs to know this before we can move on. If we don't get more specific language regarding these lingering issues, the issues will remain in the back of everyone's mind, continuing to erode away our trust.

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Others have voiced my sentiments regarding "actions speak louder than words" so I wanted to address another angle.

I firmly believe that the first step to reconciliation is transparency. Being honest regarding why things transpired the way they did and what steps you've taken to ensure they don't happen again will give the community a better idea of what they are dealing with.

The past six months have revealed through the cracks and leaks that the company - or, rather, certain folks within it - was actively stifling their CM team and preventing them from doing their jobs.

From the firing of mods to the firing of CMs - who by the way, painted a rather grim picture of recent life in their roles at SE.

So, my questions are as such:

  • Can we get some transparency into the claims that the CMs had their hands tied?
  • Can we get some transparency into why the company was being so dismissive of the community?

No canned responses saying "we're sorry, we're trying to do better" or "meta isn't scaling" or whatever the new spiel is, we just want the truth. I just don't think we can just shrug the events of the past 6 months off without any real answers.

Finally, some food for thought, if you want to the company and community relationship to improve then address the concerns of the community - a good starting point would be the overflowing tag - and treat them as the avid contributors they are.

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Those are good words; but I'll be happy for you to show me the money as it were. StackExchange needs to follow through.

I gather that management is realizing now that you can't just chase business priorities and leave your volunteer force behind. I expect management to do the absolute least possible to change their ways, while still hoping to win back our faith. That's my expectation; feel free to exceed it.

I would say SE needs to renegotiate with Monica so SE can say it was wrong without worrying about getting sued for that. And then do just that. This is social media. You don't get to play the media game like Standard Oil or US Steel. Whatever that "Moderator reinstatement policy" silliness was, it needs to be round-filed; any policy invented in the heat of controversy is done for all the wrong reasons. Moderator reinstatement should actually be an one-sided edict to the effect that Mod X's firing was reviewed and exonerated. I wouldn't even bother having an administrative reinstatement process; just declare that Mod X is welcome to run and win the next mod election.

It's not such a simple thing with employees; I don't know what to tell you about Robert and Shog9. I think the only answer there is for personnel rearrangement (i.e. other firings) to prove SE sincerely wants to return to the original, successful/profitable values. Then you could try to re-recruit those employees.

Honestly I always thought the paradigm shift driving all this pronoun/Monica/Shog9/Robert thing was the company being groomed for acquisition, and highly paid consultants telling SE that they had to change stuff to get top dollar from an acquirer like Ziff-Davis or Oath. Sillier things have happened...

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Had this been said in 2019, it would have been at least plausible. February 2020, after all that? I do not believe a single letter of this: the talk is nice, but I just can't hear it over the noise of the actions.

In other words, I would REALLY like to believe this. But you know, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Such about-turn is ridiculously improbable.

Piskvor over and out.

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    In other words: either it's a miracle, or it's an aberration that will be shortly corrected, or it's a trap. I'm with brother Ockham on this. – Piskvor left the building Feb 19 at 20:59
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    (miracle: "we have actually changed and there won't be yet another January 2020"; aberration: "oh wait, that wasn't supposed to happen, retract and erase evidence"; trap: "sow uncertainty and false hope to keep the $ flowing") – Piskvor left the building Feb 19 at 21:12
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    I don't know. Looks to me like SOI made a major investment in restructuring their organizational tree. You don't do that for s****s and giggles. – Scott Seidman Feb 19 at 21:46
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    "Such about-turn is ridiculously improbable." - I mean, it seems pretty likely to me, at least in the sense that SE Inc. finally recognizes that when you're digging yourself into a hole, the first step is to stop digging. It remains to be seen how effective that about-turn is, given that SE Inc. has often taken 1 step forward and then 2 steps back lately - they've basically shot themselves in the foot repeatedly. But it totally seems likely to me that they are trying to right their wrongs. I do understand your skepticism, though; actions speak louder than words... – V2Blast Feb 19 at 21:51
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    Indeed. You do that to keep the $ flowing. For example, if an IPO were upcoming, you definitely would not want your users fleeing the site...so you would say something to placate them. That would work...unless your actions were, for a very long time, the exact opposite. That's not to mention that this doesn't mention the Apparently Unmentionable Incident which catalyzed last year's descent to madness. – Piskvor left the building Feb 19 at 21:56
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    @V2Blast: As I wrote, I would love that to be the case. Alas, I've lived for too long to believe it: when someone comes with promises "but I have completely changed, and that's the abrupt end of my previous actions, not a single drop anymore," rarely is that actually fulfilled, it's usually because they need something from you, and lapse back shortly after. Hope dies last, of course. – Piskvor left the building Feb 19 at 22:02
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    Ah, okay. I suppose the terseness of your answer led to my misunderstanding what you were saying (i.e. what you don't "believe" about the post). To me, it read as if saying "I don't believe you're really trying to improve things" (i.e. you don't believe they're even taking these initiatives), since you said you "do not believe a single letter of this"... Rather than what you apparently meant, which is simply that you don't believe SE Inc. will maintain this sense of communicativeness/transparency/etc. for long. That's understandable, but I'd suggest editing your answer to elaborate a bit. – V2Blast Feb 19 at 22:09
  • Edited...is it clearer now? (I am on a phone in a browser here, hence the short answer; tbh didn't even expect to be logged in anywhere, anymore) – Piskvor left the building Feb 19 at 22:16
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    I agree with the sentiment in this answer. Basically there is still the fundamental incongruity of community and company goals. Users are not in it for the company, the company is not in it for the users. This needs to be solved and the way forward is that each side tells the other honestly what it needs and then see if there is room for compromise. Not announcements but answers. – Trilarion Feb 19 at 22:34
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    Whatever this thing is that's up-and-coming, losing the 2k users that DVed the two previous 'apologies' is likely a boon to SE's intentions. – Mazura Feb 20 at 2:39
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    @Mazura: Good for StackExpertsExchange then, whatever they wish to do. – Piskvor left the building Feb 20 at 8:23

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