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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.