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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initiatives Launched:

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

Initiatives in Progress:

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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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What I sincerely don't understand, is why SO hasn't hired someone that already has a lot of respect within the community for this job. Why hire someone from the outside while there are so many people who are heavily involved in the site that really know what's going on.

It doesn't even have to be a single person, but it could be a council of several of several heavily respected members that can do this besides their regular day job.

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    Would a person who had a lot of respect keep it after being hired? Would such a person want to be employed by SE in the first place? – jscs Mar 3 at 21:01
  • Maybe, maybe not, hence my council remark. I'd say it's worth a try to me. It would give the idea at least the community is in charge and not someone from the outside who has no idea and has to start all over again, like now. – JanWillem Mar 5 at 14:45
  • I assume that the OP's main job is to talk with (and be respected by) people other than "the community" – ChrisW Mar 7 at 9:13
  • That's not what I read from the the OP's post. She will represent the community also inside the company but she's also the one to improve the relationship between the community and the company. Who knows better what the community wants, or needs, than the people that are deeply involved? – JanWillem Mar 8 at 11:06
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