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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.

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 - codidact.org 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. – Reinstate Monica - M. 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 - Reinstate Monica 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 Moveon 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

62 Answers 62

32

Moderators and Only moderators should control Moderators

I feel deeply that that healing the wounds to moderators will require that to be implemented.

What's wrong with SE's plan ?

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.

  • Moderators are volunteers and unpaid
    • So if you want free work SE needs to stop cracking the whip
  • Elections : members choose who they want to be their moderators
    • It's a fundamental principle of how SE works (or did) that we get to pick our own moderators in a democratic election. It's a core principle to trust between SE, moderators and ordinary members. It's broken, and SE broke it. It needs to be fixed.
  • Disciplining moderators
    • We members elect them, and we members (or probably a moderator council) need to be the ones deciding who and how they are disciplined.

SE moderators are not slaves, not employees and not your choice. If SE want to control every aspect of moderation and certain managers cannot cope with moderators disagreeing with their ideas that should not be a cause to fire a moderator.

Trying to control and dictate to the incredibly hard working volunteers who keep the site going for minimal cost to SE is an act of insanity.

The single act of putting moderator election and removal firmly and exclusively under the control of members and moderators by democratic means would, IMO, be an enormous help to healing things around here. Please consider this.

"Firing" a moderator was the spark that lit the fire...

Some people (senior ones) at SE are, bluntly, control freaks. They need to be neutralized in some way. My way would be firing them, but what your way is, is your business.

But these people need to be permanently removed from controlling or attempting to control the moderators (and by extension the members).

I hope you have the clout and stomach to do what is needed to fix SE. I want it back. I'm currently "on strike" and I want a constructive engagement with SE aimed at getting us back.

We know SE needs to make money

We want it to make money. We have no problem with that idea because it will keep a site we like using alive.

But it ceases to be a site we want to keep alive when SE kill their core principles.

SE need to be reasonable. Trying to exercise absolute control of moderators will not make a single red cent for SE. On the contrary, it has proven to be incredibly costly as many of the best moderators and most active members have left for good (!) and their free labor with them. Some of those people generated more site visits through their hard work that any other paid employee did, I suspect, including the CEO. Some respect and appreciation and above all trust for them would be the least to expect from SE.

Let's see some common sense from SE management : it's all we ever wanted or asked for !

One good sign...

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.

This is the very first sign I have seen that the CEO has noticed we exist.

We've spent months (longer really for some) trying to get SE management to engage with us (with a flexible attitude). We've gotten nothing but marketing speech and legalese back (or just plain old silence).

I sincerely hope you're a sign for genuine change of SE management's approach to moderating and a sign that the true (dollar and cent) value of members and moderators is going to be recognized.

29

I'm finding it hard to agree with the many answers that say this post is wonderful news. Perhaps they're just trying to assume good faith and not attack a new employee who has not been personally complicit in the contemptous behavior that has lost SEI our trust.

At the end of the day, however, all this says is more words, words, words. Even the commitments in the post are commitments to listen, not commitments to do anything. And in particular there is no commitment to right any previous wrongs.

The one single action that could start earning back any sort of trust is missing. That action would be reinstating Monica's moderator roles, immediately and spontaneously.

As long as that has not happened, words will remain only words.

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    You're probably the tenth answer to repeat basically the same things, e.g. that Monica Cellio be instantly reinstated. – Mari-Lou A Feb 22 at 17:45
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    @Mari-LouA: Gee, I wonder if that could be something a lot of people care about? – hmakholm left over Monica Feb 22 at 18:45
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    Gee, maybe I was puzzled by the opening line in your introduction which seems to contradict the many answers that are not falling over themselves in compliments. P.S I upvoted all those answers which expressed a healthy dose of scepticism; the lets-wait-and-see responses. – Mari-Lou A Feb 22 at 19:56
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    Y'all need to get over the Monica thing. It's done. It went to court, and was settled. And even if that weren't the case, "immediately and spontaneously" granting moderator powers to somebody who had such a terrible experience with this site and then left the community doesn't seem like something that should happen, let alone something that ever would. So let's just put that behind us and move on. Because if this is possibly a turning point in relations, you're poisoning the opportunity by going on and on and on about something that will not happen. Just let her use her own voice. – Asteroids With Wings Feb 24 at 0:45
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    This will not be a turning point for any of us, if the offender still refuses to admit they were wrong. I don't think that Monica will ever be reinstated. But... I don't believe they can correct their behavior while simultaneously denying the very worst things they did wrong. We all know they screwed up, multiple times, compounding their mistakes until they practically forced it to become a legal issue... but they won't admit it. How can you trust them to reform their behavior if they won't come clean about what they've done? – Ask About Monica Feb 24 at 23:47
23

That's very nice to hear, but actions speak louder than words. The relationship between the company and the community has been damaged by a number of specific actions and policy changes on SE's part over the past few years. Your post doesn't mention anything about undoing those changes, which is really the bare minimum you need if you want to repair the damage done.

What plans, if any, do you have to fix harmful policy mistakes by walking back the changes that caused so much harm to the community?

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    I admire your optimism, and your hopeful stance that the mistakes will be walked back. Personally betting the under, but it would be cool to be wrong. – KorvinStarmast Feb 19 at 22:17
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    @Mazura Cuttin' through the smoke screen, one cloud at a time. Your comment made me smile. – KorvinStarmast Feb 20 at 4:26
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    @KorvinStarmast - So much for "transparency". The forecast for the foreseeable future is reign. – Mazura Feb 20 at 21:12
  • @Mazura grin two for two. ;-) – KorvinStarmast Feb 20 at 21:14
22

Personally, one of the most important things is to have a clear understanding of what the company's goals are. It seems like the company is often at odds with the community on how the site should be run; this has resulted in some unfortunate incidents like major site changes being "sprung on" the community and popular moderators and community managers being abruptly dismissed without explanation.

My concern isn't just with how these changes were communicated (although that obviously could've been handled differently); I'm more concerned that the company and the engaged users appear to have a fundamentally different view of the goals and purpose for the site.

For example, I posted a question on MSO (which, ironically, predated the situation with Monica by two months and, perhaps even more ironically, received no official response) asking for clarification on who the company thinks the customer is for Stack Overflow. I think that this is a really important thing for the company to clarify.

In my mind, the most crucial task at this point is to make sure that the company and community can develop a shared vision for the site that people can live with. We need to make sure we can come to an agreement on fundamental questions like "what's the purpose of a Stack Exchange site?" and "who's the target audience for the site?" Until we can do that, any measures that are put in place will tend to be reactive and inadequate.

Incidentally, I really like your idea for increasing community engagement. We need more engaged and educated users who have input into site governance, not just lots of new users who ask a question or two and are never heard from again. I've heard the company complain that Meta doesn't really represent the community, so I'm glad to hear that there are plans to actually improve the situation (rather than just abandoning Meta entirely).

22

From what I'm reading, I feel like nobody who's left in the company (apparently, from an outside point of view) has an innate understanding of how such a community should be handled and run. And because of that, you (the company) are trying to gain that sense from the statistics and data.

So, since you are trying to artificially become better community managers anyway, my suggestion is to look up who have been the most revered and honorable community leaders, and to study the history of their contributions, and try to recreate that.

Also, a lot of the times the community will tell you outright what the most desirable actions on your part could be, if you simply browse the most upvoted answers on Meta. And if you're in doubt, ask us on Meta.

And remember: Actions always speak louder than words.

Good luck on this job!

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    Don't want to undermine the argument; sometimes a bit of an outsider view point can be positive. I guess, it's a mix of inside experience and broader perspective that performs best in the long run. – Trilarion Feb 20 at 7:44
22

Teresa,

My request is, as the Head of Product and Community that you address and respond directly to all of these very clear and honest replies to your post. Here we have a community of extremely passionate and dedicated people who are vocalizing because they, by all accounts, have been let down.

It's pretty clear that the incident involving Monica Cellio will not be forgotten or forgiven with words and promises to do better. The loss of many moderators and former community leaders is felt tremendously and should be pretty clear now that they were simply not expendable.

Now I have to be blunt. Stack Exchange is not too big to fail. The company's value is based on the contributions of the community and losing that will put SE in a freefall that may be difficult to impossible to correct. Based on everything I've seen, it's not clear that the upper management of SE realize that this is a crisis. The fact that this conversation continues today and your most important community leaders have lost their trust in SE speaks volumes.

As someone with experience in corporate crisis management, my opinion is that the next move must be to send a very clear message with actions that SE is ready to make things right. This will look like a public reconciliation with Monica Cellio and other key community leaders who have left. Frankly, this isn't an option -- you must show leadership and heal the divide with the community. This isn't going to just go away and holding the course you have, the company's reputation will continue to suffer and may put it's long-term viability in jeopardy. The plain and simple truth is that you cannot let this continue any longer.

I say this all coming from a place of support and positivity, as I believe Stack Exchange is a truly amazing community and it would be a tremendous shame if we were to lose it.

22

It's unlikely that this will be noticed in all the traffic. However, there is an aspect of the post that I wish to try to highlight.

The post expresses concern about the small number of users who become 'engaged.' For the main three sites, this is, I submit, not a good metric to try to drive.

It was noted, by the founder of all this, that the accumulation of content over time would gradually change the nature of engagement. When almost all of the easy questions have good answers visible to google, the main opportunities for engagement are answering hard questions. (1) they don't come up all that often, and (2) few people have the skills.

Thus, a situation in which an ever-growing number of people come to the site, find what they need, and never do anything complicated, is working as intended. It may not be producing the ad revenue that the enterprise needs for viability, but it's the mechanics of the site playing out exactly as designed.

  • To my mind this sort of corporate behaviour has the smell of money talking and management listening. – James B. Byrne Feb 26 at 19:23
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    A form of active engagement could be to improve existing content. E.g. 5 year old SO questions have 10+ answers, not all of which add value in their own right. Similar many questions are much more verbose than they need to be. Plenty of comments have zero remaining value. If users were empowered and encouraged to clean up such messes the same way Wikipedia articles are refined, there would be much work to be done. – tkruse Feb 27 at 15:09
21

I was beginning to think your lawyers had banned any form of apology or admittance of wrong doing.

Jokes aside, this was a refreshing read and hope your colleagues can get behind you.

It does worry me slightly that your first objectives appear to be turning new users into engaged ones with what appears to me to lack an expectation of what an engaged user should be engaging in (I.e content moderation, searching out duplicates instead of being the first to answer the same exact question for the umpteenth time)

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    Some of the users want their questions answered, but many questions have quality problems. Other users have fun answering good questions, want to build a knowledge library and also do cleanup. All users can be frustrated. I agree that there is definitely more details necessary on the engagement issue, especially on how to balance friction. Otherwise there might be less engagement as the result. – Trilarion Feb 19 at 20:41
  • @Trilarion - Absolutely, my point is theres a difference between a user engaging for personal gain and one engaging to contribute to the community goals – Sayse Feb 20 at 8:15
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    They're not admitting to any wrongdoing. recent events may have caused harm Passive tense. May. Events, aka situations, rather than specific actions and words. growing distance from our community lead to those events aka, "it was just a misunderstanding". – Legxis Feb 21 at 11:02
21

I would be enormously grateful if you could devote some of your attention to the Licensing issue. I appreciate that dealing with the moderator community is a priority issue. But applying CC-BY-SA licensing to code fragments on Stack Overflow is a huge issue for developers. Professional developers take licensing of code very seriously.

The risk of incurring legal liability for violating a CC-BY-SA license just by reading Stack Overflow posts is a serious problem for us.

Our lawyers advise against allowing our developers to use Stack Overflow because of it. You need to appreciate what the copyright review process during the due-diligence phase of a startup acquisition looks like to fully appreciate how serious this issue is.

20

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.

It is good to see the company realizing this. It is not something that you can fix with more edicts from on high; It must be repaired through effort.

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.

Emphasis mine. This feels like it should have been long ago. However in recent events there was certainly no lack of attempts to communicate the reasoning behind their stepping down but it has felt that thus far the words fell on deaf ears. I will be happy to see the company start taking time to actually listen to their backbone.

Working directly with targeted groups through UX research, we will identify and invest in features and tools that will improve the experience.

In doing this, I hope that one of the targets are the "unwelcoming" metric that the company seems to have put entirely on the sites and their users. New users need to understand what the site is and why things happen in order to understand the consequences that may lead them to feel unwelcome. Since I have been lurking I have seen this improve, but there is still work to be done.

I feel that you are sincere in your mission and I want to believe that this is a huge step forward for the company. Thank you for taking the time to write up a post and not stuffing it with legal-speak and empty words. This feels like a genuine message. I would like to see this all move on towards a brighter future.

But actions speak louder than words.

You have the metrics to see that lots of people are watching.

20

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.

I believe this is the exact opposite of StackOverflow's goal. The percentage of users that come in, get their answer, and leave without a trace is the proof that you have succeeded in creating an answers platform that scales. On the flip side, if your engagement percentage keeps up with your user base, this means more and more answerers are required for an ever increasing deluge of duplicate and low effort questions.

The whole point of StackOverflow was to create a repository of answers, so if you user base grows faster than your engaged base, then you have answered most of the questions. I think congratulations are in order.

More importantly, I believe trying to increase your engagement score goes directly against the purpose of SO. Unless you are now telling us that SO is not a Q&A site, but a community site.

Can you elaborate please?

  • 17
    Generally in these things, "engagement" is a euphemism for "clicked something". In more concrete terms, stuff like asking, answering, editing, voting, flagging and even commenting could be considered "engagement". So in light of that, a userbase that grows without corresponding engagement is... Just dead signups - people who create accounts but never use them for anything. – Shog9 Feb 19 at 21:10
  • 5
    But isn't that what we want? People who come here and find the answer they were looking for without having to ask a duplicate? People who get value without having to create an account? I feel like this is the crux of the tension between the community and the company. – Guillaume Cretot-Richert Feb 19 at 21:12
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    Presumably some % of activity is needed for the continued health of the site; let's say 5% for the sake of discussion. If that falls off too severely, it bodes ill for the future: who is left to update and maintain the body of knowledge? By the same token, if it rises too quickly then systems that assume mostly readers won't scale - imagine if folks stopped finding answers and # of questions increased 20-fold! (Actual calculations would be a bit more complicated: engagements aren't "fungible" and the type of engagement needed isn't static for instance.). – Shog9 Feb 19 at 21:18
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    I see your point, and I'm coming at this from an engineer's point of view: if your % activity keeps up with your volume, you are not scaling. If we see "userbase" as people who come and find an answer and "engaged users" as people who put effort in the site, then you scale only when userbase increases faster than engaged userbase. In other words, SO wins when engaged % decreases. I do see your point about a critical minimum threshold though. – Guillaume Cretot-Richert Feb 19 at 21:23
  • 7
    Yeah... There's also more to scaling than just ratios here; when SO got 200 questions/day it was easy enough for everyone to read everything... At 2k that wasn't really feasible even though there were a LOT more people answering... At 10k, it was having a palpable effect on the folks willing to try - iow, scale affected the ratio itself. To some extent this is self-limiting, but it becomes an issue when, say, there's so much noise that results no longer appear in Google searches. Now you're in that weird case where engagement going up may actually indicate a problem... – Shog9 Feb 19 at 21:29
  • I see your point, but disagree about SO winning when engagement decreases. The beast that is the userbase at large is scaffolded by the engaged community. Unless the engaged community stays healthy, the user base will eventually not be satisfied. When you're sick, sometimes you go to a generalist, and sometimes you go to a cardiologist. – Scott Seidman Feb 19 at 21:45
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    @ScottSeidmann Maybe Wikipedia can be a model. First they grew exponentially, but that could not go on forever, now the number of articles only grows linearly with time. It's a sign of saturation or mission accomplished. Basically you could ask yourself what kind of content can be created from continued engagement, signal or only noise. Building a knowledge base is replaced by maintaining a knowledge base. This probably requires a special kind of engagement. Or is it to be something else. What is the purpose of it all here? Why do we spent time here? – Trilarion Feb 19 at 22:45
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    @Trilarion - you don't get free internet points for maintaining a knowledge base. The percentage of people who do is way less than 5%. I came to SE about 5y in, 5y ago. Everything was a dupe then too. But that I didn't get the 'link' badge until just recently, and I link stuff all the time, then I either suck at it or no one cares and they just want to hear themselves speak and get teh pointz. I thought this was to be Ask Wiki. It's more like, Ask w/e, again, who cares? – Mazura Feb 20 at 2:21
  • @Shog9 Thanks for putting a finger on something that I suspected but could not explain. thumbs up – KorvinStarmast Feb 20 at 4:30
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    @Mazura It is interesting that nobody really seems to celebrate that the growth phase of Stack Overflow (programming part) is over, the mission mostly accomplished and we could now shift emphasis on maintenance and slow continued growth. Neither the company seems happy about, nor the community really, or I just missed the parties. Maybe for the community it's a loss of purpose even though it means that they did a great thing. The community should do some soul-searching and answer for itself the question why it's here. – Trilarion Feb 20 at 7:30
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    @Trilarion - For the actual tenth time, I just had to link someone what the thickness of a plywood subfloor has to be. Which was answered by someone who has 20k. That same someone had ~5k when I got to 10k and stopped caring. Instead of looking for the dupe, of which I'm pretty sure they've read or by this point they should know it's probably out there somewhere, they went on to arbitrarily answer the question. – Mazura Feb 21 at 3:41
  • 3
    And that's how you get to 100k and still not be a valuable member of SE as a s/n-curator. But they keep the front page rolling with ad revenue. 'value' is in the eye of the (stock)beholders. What does all that mean? SE was here before me and it will be here after me, doing the same thing over and over again. Out with the old and in with the new is what we used to talk about before 'all this' just sped the process up. Get with the program or leave has always been the SE way, except it used to be about pedantry, not (for lack of a better word that would get this comment deleted) prerogative. – Mazura Feb 21 at 3:41
20

Welcome to Meta Teresa.

A very well written post but it still lack the core thing that the community is looking for.

Minus the eloquence, this is no different than this post here. It's a standard issued apology, with promises to make things better in future.

All SE needed to do, was to apologise to Monica, and re-instate her. If people still want her gone, then run the newly defined process on her. (From the looks of it, it seems you want her to apply if she wishes. Doesn't make any sense).

This is what SE should have done months back. And with every hollow apology, it continues to lose its meaning.

  • 9
    I would say that it is very different from what was posted there. There, it sounded as something made solely because a legal agreement mandated it. The present one is different, as it is more closer to the one posted by David Fullerton, which was initially very well received, but when it was clear that the beautiful words were nothing more than words, the tide turned. However this one is still much more than that. Here, it seems that Teresa Dietrich really want to cooperate and give a happy ending to this mess. However, she is still a newbie at SE, so only time will tell what will happen. – Victor Stafusa Feb 20 at 5:08
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    @VictorStafusa yeah, you are right, this is closer to David's than Sara's post. Like all of us here, I don't question Teresa's intentions, but I do feel that she's being micromanaged (no mention of monica kinda gives it away). – Shamas S - Reinstate Monica Feb 20 at 5:24
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    Firing Monica was just a catalyst, there were so many things happening before that that showed SO corp had lost touch with its user base. (I.e licensing, mismanaging and ignorance around what a gender pronoun involves etc) – Sayse Feb 20 at 7:27
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    @VictorStafusa Do bear in mind that the previous apologies were ghostwritten (David's post was almost word for word written by somebody else); this post is likely the first potentially genuine one. – Sébastien Renauld Feb 20 at 9:12
20

I appreciate the effort you're putting into this and believe that you're putting your best foot forward by addressing the community. It's unfortunate that you came into SE at this point. If you're able to help urge SE to dig themselves out of this, kudos to you. Please don't feel personally responsible if the community continues disengaging from the network.

I hope Stack Exchange puts their money where their mouth is. It's disappointing to see a company treat moderators and community members in the manner they have in recent months (more like years, but let's simplify things a bit) especially when moderators are not paid for the work they do.

I feel like it's been a mentality where SE has decided to beat the community members until morale improves. I hope there is change, but I don't think I'll be sticking around to see it.

Best of luck on your endeavor with the company. I'm sorry you're assigned to a sinking ship and have been told to row.

  • Last sentence can be improved to "...assigned to a sinking ship and have been told to become its captain". – Shadow Wizard is Ear For You Mar 3 at 8:39
19

First off, welcome to SE!

This all sounds nice, helpful, and productive. It sounds that way. There are a few things to overcome to get rid of that skepticism.

I want to believe you, I do. But talk about initiatives and new processes that will prevent previous, acknowledged wrongs from happening again are not new. It seems to always be "jam tomorrow", without much (or any) effort to offer redress for previous bad actions or situations. And then the jam doesn't arrive.

There's also an element of fighting the last war (preventing repeats of things which have already upset the community) combined with a seeming lack of interest in the spirit of what the community wants causing the promised changes to feel insubstantial, if not dishonest.

For me, personally, I think that it might help to see regular, specific updates about what changes are being made (that's made, not promised, planned, or on a wish list), how and why they address community wishes, issues that come up along the way, and, importantly, any failures to live up to the spirit of these initiatives along with accountability for those failures (where appropriate) when those failures happen.

It's a tough job you've taken on, at a difficult time. But promises have been made before. This is either the first step towards better things, or a familiar prelude to yet another expression of contempt for users. I worry that SE has decided that it can get away with abuses, and will try to go on doing that at strategic points. I hope that I'm wrong. I'm also hoping for more responses to the community, rather than outcome-indifferent engagement with the community.

I look forward to the new things your post describes, and to further interactions with you in the community.

18

This is a GREAT start. It should have happened 5 months ago but at least it's happening now, and it's certainly better than the alternative of it not happening at all.

It is, however, only half of what should be a two-strand process. It acknowledges fault and maps out a way forward, but we're still in a position where much of the damage that was done remains done.

To cite an example, Monica should not have been invited to apply for reinstatement. She should have been offered her posts back, no questions, no catches, and with full assurance that what had happened would not prejudice any future dealings. OK, that probably can neither be done nor commented on for legal reasons now, but as an example it was meant to be illustrative of the kind of good-faith actions that were and remain required. That's a bridge that's been burned, but others aren't.

So a great start for sure, but forgive me for still feeling cautious about the future.

  • 4
    It should have happened 5 months ago ... maybe that new person brought in a new perspective. – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Feb 19 at 19:22
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    @GhostCatsalutesMonicaC.- maybe they did indeed, but once again, do forgive me for being cautious because I feel that apology #1 was "fool me once, shame on you", apology #2 was "fool me twice, shame on me" and it would be really nice if apology #3 didn't turn out to be "fool me three times" but on past performance... let's just say that it needs a bit more than mighty fine words. – Maximus Minimus Feb 20 at 8:52
  • 1
    When you read my note, you will find the same sentiment there about "actions matter more than words". – GhostCat salutes Monica C. Feb 20 at 8:56
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    "OK, that probably can neither be done nor commented on for legal reasons now..." Legal reasons created by the company itself. Nobody forced SO to put a silence clause in the agreement with Monica, as far as I know. – cjs Feb 22 at 9:08
17

As one of the regulars (and mod) on travel, I would love to welcome you in our chatroom, https://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/591/you-are-here, and get to know the regulars there.
That way you get a feel for what we feel, rather than what we ask and answer about.
And I would encourage all staff (whatever they do in the company) to join the active chatrooms for the sites they feel home. Not all sites have an active chatroom, so they might need to check out a few to find the one that works for them.
It might work if some of them are known to be working for SE, but others do not disclose that fact so you get feedback knowing it gets back to the company and neutral feedback.

I also think it is important for you to hang out in one or more rooms where mods hang out. Teachers lounge and/or site specific mod rooms, so you can get the full sense where the mods feel free to speak. (Many of us keep it down in the open chatrooms.)

As I said, I would like to welcome you in our Travel chatroom. I am usually pingable there.

  • 5
    The TL is a great place to hear complaints and issues that don't make their way into public places. – Mithical Feb 19 at 18:35
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    Thanks for the invite, count me in. One of our awesome CM's already pointed me in the direction of our Travel site based on our conversation. – Teresa Dietrich Feb 19 at 19:27
17

Welcome to the community. I want to start by saying that this strikes me as the most genuine and meaningful post from a staffer throughout all of the recent changes and conflict.

I think there are a few reasons why it feels so meaningful:

  • It's coming from a person in a position to directly influence the future of the product and the community. Head of Product and Community says it all.
  • It's actionable in the sense that instead of using buzzwords, you're describing concrete steps that are either already happening, or will happen soon.

You've already received a number of thoughtful answers. I'm adding another for a specific reason. I would like to encourage you to not overlook the greater network community. In other words, people who aren't primarily developers and/or people who may engage mainly with the broader network of sites versus Stack Overflow or the other developer-centric sites and products.

Although Stack Overflow clearly dwarfs the network sites in size and activity, there are some fairly significant differences across the network sites in terms of interpretation of rules or guidelines, and how users interact with the site (i.e. voting to close, commenting, etc). While I would like to remain an optimist and I appreciate the recent efforts to engage, it is a little worrisome that much of the recent engagement (The Loop, the survey, blog posts from staffers, etc) seem specifically (and perhaps unintentionally) targeted at Stack Overflow and/or a purely technical audience. On the one hand, I am frightened that the larger community may suffer as a result of that focus, but on the other hand, I think Stack Exchange may miss on opportunities by not engaging the larger community more directly and deliberately.

  • 24
    Both the previous "sorry-not-sorry" non-apologies were from people with the power to influence things: one was from the director of public Q&A (i.e. personally responsible for the entire public-facing network), and the other was the company's CTO. Both chose not to act. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 21 at 0:14
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    Thank you for bringing up the importance of the greater network community! Not enough of the answers on this post have done that. :) – V2Blast Feb 21 at 7:22
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    What @user56 said, which I thought of posting as answer: we've seen that already. They "shoot and go", vanishing into thin air. And sadly, most chances this is exactly what 's going to happen in this case as well. In 6-8 months, only few will remember this exciting "new beginning". – Shadow Wizard is Ear For You Feb 24 at 13:53
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    I want to make it clear that while I reserve my right to feel optimistic, and I do (personally) think this time feels different, I am not intending this answer to predict, defend, or indicate reliance on or full alignment with the staff's future activities. My main point was, let's engage the whole community and not just "developers" or SO participants. I respect the point you two are making, but I would agree it would probably be better suited to an answer versus just comments here on this answer, where it feels like a tangent. – dwizum Feb 24 at 14:02
17

To all of the moderators who have resigned or suspended your activities over the past few months ... If you feel that your issues continue to go unaddressed, I invite you to post about them on Meta in a respectful way.

There might be a procedural difficulty or inhibition.

Moderators undertake to "keep confidential" the information they obtain as a result of being moderator, not only PII but also e.g. from the Teacher's Lounge or from the "Stack Moderators Questions" Team -- like, you might have an NDA with your employer -- and wouldn't post here (in public) about issues they encountered there.

Conversely, moderators who resigned no longer have a private (secure, authorized) channel to communicate with you.

I suggest then that to whatever extent this isn't only a public relations exercise (or stunt) it might be polite of you to "reach out" (as they say now) privately to however many people those are -- at the least to "debrief" them. I don't guarantee anyone would reply or have something to say -- or perhaps they'd reply with a hyperlink to something they already wrote, a resignation notice -- still it might be an adult thing to do, and might be how moderators are used to discussing problems i.e. confidentially (and to some extent person-to-person).

Meta might be good for a lot of things but it is public and therefore, because confidentiality is ingrained into moderators' ethos -- which is why SE's apparent breach of such seemed to me so outlandish, clueless at best, and if I were paranoid I might see it as an attempt to decimate insubordination -- I expect what you might read here from moderators is guarded and/or oratory for public performance.

I expect your former CMs are probably ditto.

Conventional wisdom (in the Workplace) is that it isn't worth being candid with one's former employer in an exit interview -- that it burns bridges and no good will come of it -- still, maybe you could try to have the interview. Or perhaps you only want to hear, and in public, from the current players ("the people who are still alive").

And you've already been doing (internal) interviews for a month, perhaps you are already getting up to speed.

Anyway welcome and I hope you're successful here (and happy i.e. "without remorse").

  • 16
    FWIW, some of us didn't get exit interviews and had the bridges burned for us... So, there's at least a little bit of candid feedback blowing around in public 😋 – Shog9 Feb 24 at 17:21
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    I read little bit of that little bit; and some of those bits between the lines sounded like they might be relevant to the OP's interests, but what do I know. Best wishes to you for your new job, and may you be well 🙏 – ChrisW Feb 24 at 17:38
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    Thanks Chris - and to be clear, this is good advice (as is the not burning bridges bit... For both parties) – Shog9 Feb 24 at 17:43
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    This is an important point. The current moderator pool... not to disparage them, many of them seem like cool cats... but they don't feel like the same group we had 12 months ago. Many were driven away because they took a principled stand against SE's behavior... and THOSE are the ones you most need to listen to. You can't filter out those who disagree with you, then ask for feedback from those who remain. – Ask About Monica Feb 24 at 23:27
16

As a user (programmer, engineer, etc.), I generally use Bing or Google to search for a solution to my problem and usually most of the correct and valuable hits are on Stack Overflow. I even try to help answer questions, but I seldom have time to answer first and my answer isn't always the best. Over the past year or so, I've seen the quality of material here deteriorate and the civility decline. I've read some of the missives here in Meta and have some vague idea what has been going on.

Teresa - your stated intentions sound great, but I'm not a corporate manager type. After 40 years of doing this, I still program in framework-less code and build things myself whenever necessary even though my title is CTO. Like others have said, let's see action.

If you want to improve Stack Overflow, engage the user community to clean out duplicates, erroneous material, and fix answers that are not quite right or are not complete - make this THE place to go for solutions. Keep users and moderators engaged with good tools so that everyone's visit to the site is courteous and well worth their time.

I have a notion to delete this before sending it or at least take a few days to review and revise, but that wouldn't help get across my point. I need Stack Overflow! And I need it to work!

So, Teresa, get to work! So we can get our work done.

Oh, and welcome to the Stack Exchange sites!

  • 10
    I used to do that a lot, too. Nowadays I more often skip the SO results, since they're so frequently useless. (Except for basic syntax questions like "what was the keyword for X in language Y again?" — for those SO can still be a pretty good cheat sheet.) – Ilmari Karonen Feb 20 at 1:39
16

Thank you for your post. I enjoyed reading it. I trust you are sincere in what you wrote, with it hopefully signaling the start of a new, more positive relationship between the company and the community members.

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

The damage from the company's various actions, and inactions, is more than to just moderators who "have resigned or suspended activities over the past few months". I've read in several places (I don't have any references offhand, but you may have seen a few yourself) of moderators who stated they will just reduce their activities instead of suspending them completely.

Also, you wrote earlier about "our most avid community members" and "core community members". I'm not a moderator on any site, but depending on how you specifically define those 2 phrases, I believe I fit into one or both of them. On Math SE, for example, over the past 15 or so months I've been a member, I've cast over 13,000 up votes (including for more than 1,000 answers on years old questions with no up-voted answers, working as part of a group trying to reduce the unanswered list sizze), over 1,200 down votes, voted to close over 3,300 times, etc. I'm mentioning this to show I've been quite active in helping the site, including doing "moderator" type activities, more so I suspect than quite a few actual moderators. IMHO, I've spent much more time on this than I should have. For example, on many occasions, I have used the daily limit on up & down votes, plus there were several times I ran out of close votes for the day when I was helping to handle the large number of PSQ (Problem Statement Question) type questions that Math SE was being inundated with at certain times of the year (e.g., just before the final exams at the end of the school year). I did all of this because I care about the community. I even considered the possibility of applying to be a moderator in the future.

However, when I started to read about, and participate in a few cases, the various issues here over the past 6 or so months, I became disillusioned & upset. I considered stopping all my moderator type activities, but instead decided to just reduce them. In particular, during the first few weeks after I gained the privilege to vote to delete/undelete, there were several times I used the max. # of delete votes allowed in a day. However, I decided to basically stop that, as well as no longer use the review queues (although I still sometimes vote to close posts I encounter), but still continue doing most everything else as before. Your post is encouraging, including that you wrote it more like a regular person rather than as an executive using "corporate speak" or a lawyer using "legalese". Although I am not yet ready to resume those other activities, I will consider it if I see enough concrete positive actions occurring.

I'm confident there are many other non-moderator, but quite active, community members who have likewise reduced or suspended various helpful, especially moderator-type, activities. Please don't forget to fully consider & address these people when you are working on trying to undo & fix the damage done and then communicating to us about this.

I wish you well in your new position. I really hope you can help make a large positive change in the relationship between the company and the various diverse groups of the community of site members.

  • 16
    You do a lot of curation work and care a lot about the content, the platform or just the community. By definition you are a core user. – Trilarion Feb 19 at 22:49
15

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.

I have a question about that.

I gather that the company's plans for the next three years or so are as described here -- What is Stack Overflow's business model?

  • How does "Public Q&A" and "Community" fit with or help that goal?
  • Do the non-SO sites have any commercial importance, if so what?
  • Why is it important to grow the number of active SO users (i.e. not just readers)?
  • Do you (i.e. the company, not you personally) want to sell Teams to every kind of team (including e.g. banks and "wedding planners"), or, mostly only to software developers?
  • Is there more than just increasing revenue times ten that you need to do for an IPO -- become a house-hold name or something?

Maybe people want to know what your (the company's) motives are -- and apart from "just growth!" maybe the details aren't obvious, people (i.e. who haven't "seen the playbook", to quote Joel) don't know what you're trying to accomplish nor why.

Part of the tension seems to be not just between SE and the Meta-community, but between old people and new people (users) meeting but not cooperating well -- maybe sharing context and expectations could help.

I'm not sure the above are the most pertinent questions to ask, but I assume some of the actions of SE employees are and have been motivated by SE's business plans -- and that our better understanding the details of those might help us better understand the actions and assumptions, perhaps even cooperate to continue to find win-wins and adapt to the changing business (and social) environment (note that some other answers see the company's goals and the community's as being mutually opposed at the moment). At least, your making it plainer might make the company seem less secretive (some might fear it is even 'deceitful') and more open, and replace some of the current speculation.

  • 1
    "Do the non-SO sites have any commercial importance, if so what?" The direct revenue is probably the ad revenue (minus the fixed costs of upkeeping >100 exchanges). It may scale with the number of visits to the non-SO sites. Clearly, SO has the majority of visits, so not much importance there. Also SO is advertisement for teams software, so non-SO sites could be advertisement for non-programming teams. I guess that's why you ask for it. Overall, the commercial importance of the non-SO sites is probably rather small. – Trilarion Feb 20 at 7:49
  • 2
    Yes perhaps but this is our speculating from outside the company. I understand there are no plans to shut the non-SO sites, and I think of them as pro bono, but perhaps it could be useful for people to be on the same page about how and where the company wants to move and change. – ChrisW Feb 20 at 8:46
15

Welcome, and thank you for willing to step in to a difficult position!

While I rarely participate on Meta, I couldn't help but feel obliged to weigh in on the political fiasco that has unfolded at the company. Occasionally, I'll offer suggestions or improvements, but I really like to let others with stronger opinions than me be the ones to move the marble.

One of the issues with the present situation is an "us vs them" mentality. This has come about because moderators have long been considered "us" due to the way they are installed, while the company has, more recently, come to be "them" due to the way certain employees have interacted with the community at large.

This wedge was created by an attitude and an approach. Employees of the company are given the moderator diamond without having gone through the community process. This is problematic. Further, many responses from employees convey a tone of "speaking from authority," which is problematic. Finally, when employees declare normative opinions as factual, it conveys a sense of "we are above you." These factors, and likely others, have created the "us vs. them" wedge we now experience.

The above directly led to the present debacle with moderator resignations. The employees at Stack Exchange unilaterally decided they were above the community, and, since they hold the admin credentials to the systems, had the means to force the issue. This was incredibly damaging, and in my opinion, it very well may be irrecoverable. Because, for all the good intentions, the fact remains that only the employees hold the keys to the kingdom.

You have a tough job. Please continue to engage - regardless of how positively or negatively posts are received. When speaking of things with the company, please try to avoid judgemental statements in any capacity - present facts, let the readers decide. And please work with your co-workers to make them more politically-sensitive and avoid writing statements of opinion which somehow come across as "we're going to do things this way, whether you like it or not."

  • 2
    The be fair, the company always held the keys to the kingdom, from day one of Stack Overflow. Rationally, that never changed. There should always have been some kind of wedge because we are not them, they are not truly us. Maybe the past was an exception in that regard. Nevertheless, I fully agree that they could have managed it better. – Trilarion Feb 24 at 10:32
14

This looks like a genuine step in a good direction, towards reconciliation in some form. There's a lot of not-good that's piled up, not just over the past half-year, but over several years. I see recognition of that here, and I appreciate it.

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.

These especially are good words to hear. There's a longstanding lack here, in my opinion. I (we?) recognize that you need new users -- not everybody sticks around forever. But you can absolutely help to keep people around longer.

You'll have to forgive me for taking a "wait and see" attitude on the follow through, but thank you for posting this regardless.

14

I'm very happy to see this. I've been waiting for a post like this for quite a while now. Thank you Teresa. Looking forward to seeing how your team manages their objectives. Your brief mention on the licensing issues got my attention especially - I'm happy someone is looking into it.

That's what I wanted to see, really. A human response, not some prepared paragraph sanitised by a lawyer.

And yes, I'm vain enough to not want my comment lost in the fog, so I'm posting as an answer.

Great start. Thank you.

  • 3
    Agreed, Teresa's message is very human, and sounds sincere. Although there seems to be a general demand for "actions instead of words," it makes sense to me to let people know your intentions and that you're working on things. – Matt Mc Feb 20 at 3:03
  • 1
    I downloaded, because it is a comment, repeating other comments/answers – MiFreidgeim SO-stop being evil Feb 23 at 8:28
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    @MiFreidgeimSO-stopbeingevil Fair play. And thanks for leaving a comment to explain :) – rath Feb 23 at 14:01
13

From this comment, copied in case it gets "tidied" like before:

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

(emphasis mine, obviously)

How does this fit with a director with the title of "Director of Public Q&A" which seems to either clash with your responsibilities (assuming you are now a C-level officer), or is/will be your direct superior in the organisation?

  • 9
    In my mind the CPO is over the director of Q/A, I.e: the Director of Q/A report to the CPO, there's no clash IMHO. – Tensibai Feb 21 at 15:21
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    Even more so a Director who has so far been acting in direct opposite to the goals outlined in this announcement by the Chief Officer. – Chris says Reinstate Monica Feb 21 at 16:22
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    A senior employee in a branch office might be a director, and C-level is above that, imo. In my very limited experience a function of a director is to be a hatchet-person i.e. they may fire front-line employees. – ChrisW Feb 21 at 18:14
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    Maybe its because I'm in the UK, a "director" is a special employee with responsibility for the business in law - that's why they get paid extra. The US... can't tell if a director is a director any more with all the daft titles they hand out. – gbjbaanb Feb 21 at 19:53
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    @gbjbaanb Perhaps you're thinking of the "board of directors". – ChrisW Feb 21 at 20:50
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    @ChrisW yes, that's what a "director" refers to, in the UK at least. No ordinary employee would ever be called a director of anything, without being a director. – gbjbaanb Feb 21 at 21:15
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    The Director of Q/A is part of my new organization and reports to me. – Teresa Dietrich Feb 24 at 4:19
  • @gbjbaanb, I'm from the UK and I've worked for companies where there have been directors who aren't Directors in the Companies House sense. I refer to them, somewhat facetiously as DINOs, or 'Director In Name Only' ;-) – Rob Feb 24 at 16:27
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    @gbjbaanb It's different in the US, then; director is a common title for a certain level of upper management, usually reporting to either a C-level or "vice president"-level employee. Directors may or may not be considered "executives", depending on the org chart. – Bryan Krause Feb 24 at 16:41
9

This is my first answer on this Meta, so I will start in a tone of positivity: welcome Teresa and thank you all for contributing to the improvement of the community.

I am writing due to a couple of initiatives in progress that caught my eyes:

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

Coupled with:

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 [...] 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 now provide my 2 cents:

  1. Employees have tremendous impact when their thoughts are shared and, especially, when they do it for fun! This initiative literally motivates transparency and a stronger community: employees become alive to the public and are rewarded by acceptance and honour, which is manifolds more valuable than monetary rewards, not only to them but to the company as well.
  2. Previous moderators thoughts are great guides to improvement. Would it be possible to also send the mentioned set of surveys and interviews to resigned moderators (those willing to participate) and their constructive answers publicly shared (or summarized, so that most people have the time to read/think about them)?

In my view, these initiatives might actually provide a whole new range of opportunities for constructively improve community-company relations.

8

The moderator reinstatement process needs to be lifted on moderators who stepped down before it was put in place. It is unfair to impose a process on moderators who stepped down in good faith, expecting to be reinstated and then rejected on procedure laid down after this. It may well have affected those people's decisions to step down to favour a break rather than give up the diamond.

To me this is the worst betrayal for a moderator that is community elected to be vetoed by a handful of people. It's not helping the relationship between the company and these people and there's at least two I know of.

On a worse note is reinstating a moderator fit for duty on one site and not reinstating them on another site. It really doesn't bode well and reinforces the notion that the site is happy to use people up when it suits them and kick them to the kerb when they don't.

I'd love to communicate with you via email.

  • "Stepped down expecting to be reinstated " what? who? why? – SCFi Mar 3 at 13:10
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    Which moderator got rejected by that procedure? I didn't think there was such a case. – Sébastien Renauld Mar 3 at 13:54
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    I get what he’s saying; until recently any mod that wanted to step away was told “sure, and your diamond is always here for you, just ask.” But they have decided to nullify all those previous agreements by requiring this reinstatement process. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 3 at 14:01
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    On a worse note is reinstating a moderator fit for duty on one site and not reinstating them on another site. Indeed unlawful, but I am unaware to whom this happened. I believed only one reinstatement process per fired/resigned mod was needed. In other words, if Monica had submitted to the process, and her application passed with flying colours, her modding privileges to her six sites would have been reinstated. Was I mistaken? – Mari-Lou A Mar 3 at 18:54
5

It is good to know that you are (supposedly) using UXD methodologies. It's a bit refreshing since you never did it before. In fact, some time ago this hub had a fairly active UX community (which is now slowly dying).

And despite the fact that there were great names and leaders of UX worldwide, SO / SX never asked about the changes made both in the user interface and in the UX processes, which obviously helped bring things to this point.

Basically: you despised the contribution and talent of thousands of professionals ... and well ... results in sight.

Therefore, I applaud this intention, and I hope this time you do things right and REALLY use UXD.

I am not very optimistic, to be honest. I do not have any data (what we use in UXD, because the profession is not called UX) that shows that you are really interested in a change or in the contribution of the community.

In fact, I the only real information we have so far is that you are letting the UX community suffer a slow death and still don't bother asking what to do!

Anyway, I wish you luck and I really, really, REALLY hope that this time SX will be honest about its intentions and that this letter is not just another of your lawyer's letters.

PD: remember: SX is nothing without the content that users donated. You (I mean, SX staff and the company in general) are nothing without the community. And like many of the most respected members of UX.SE moved to greener pastures, the same could happen with other sites

PS2: Do you know how many candidates for UX.SE moderators on the last call? ONE. You do not need to be a magician or an expert in data analysis or business intelligence to extrapolate a conclusion from that data. However ... you couldn't. Or you just (probably) didn't care.

So excuse me if I'm not ecstatic with your promises. I will believe them when I see them

4

I'm sure you're a nice person.

But talk is cheap. Show me, don't tell me.

3

I haven't been active on Stackoverflow etc for a long, long, long time. Almost eight years. Largely because I didn't particularly care for volunteering for a for-profit. Other systemic issues related to the moderator election system. At the time, it was moderator-for-life, with what appeared to be no checks on the use of the discretionary power. For a community, that's very toxic.

I also profoundly disagreed with the anti-fun and rules-following mentality that was growing at that time. Fun is harmless and integral to the hacker mind.

Conceptually, the system where the Company relies on Volunteers is not going to end well, because interests will tend to diverge over time. It seems that time has come, and the model of how the total social-technical system need to be addressed at a very root level to ensure continuity of system.

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