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I’m really excited to share with you the fact that Stack Overflow just raised $85 million in our series E round of funding. I've written about the investment in detail on our blog.

As I said there, our public community and commercial products are symbiotically linked. One cannot succeed without the other, and the more one prospers, the more it can propel the success of the pair. With this funding, we will be able to invest in more people and tooling on our public platform and community management teams; in the tools, features, and platforms that support our community managers, moderators, and users. We’ve shared our Q3 roadmap for the community, and I am confident that this funding will allow us to deliver on and expand that commitment. What we learn from these communities will help us to build better, more useful products for developers, technologists, and the companies that rely on them.

This is due to a great deal of work done by the whole company to build products that can financially support our community. And the motivation to invest more in the Community is not just something that we are talking about externally - it is also something strongly felt within the company. I want to share a line from an email I wrote to the whole company this morning as part of this announcement.

“We will continue to invest in our community and in internal resources to help address areas where employees have felt under-resourced historically.”

This funding will allow us to hire additional support for the Community team. We’ll be opening CM roles, a second PM role on the Public Platform team, as well as additional developers and designers to help support the things we need to build.

Our recently-announced Q3 roadmap will stay as-is since we won't be able to grow the Community Team quickly enough to work on anything this quarter, but we are kicking off research and collaboration across the Team and community for future plans.

Please leave any questions or comments below and we will try to address them as best we can. Because of the funding news, today will be quite busy internally, and we may not be able to provide thorough answers right away for all questions, but we will work to respond over the next 48 hours.

This couldn’t have happened without our users, our Moderators, and the millions of people that come to our sites every month. We appreciate your continued support and dedication to Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network, and we are excited to have more resources to be able to work on problems and solutions with the community in the future.

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    Have you considered approaching the CMs you fired/laid off last fall? – Sébastien Renauld Jul 28 at 14:46
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    @SébastienRenauld - with at least a 300% pay increase over what it was before they were fired – Mithical Jul 28 at 14:47
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    I'm one of the moderators on the fence. We have not felt the love in a long time, and while more communication and acknowledgement of the community's value is absolutely appreciated, it is, again, only words. To be blunt, there's not enough support for the public community. It would go a very long way to show that you don't see us as just a cost. – fbueckert Jul 28 at 15:10
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    $85 million but had to abandon swag for reaching 100k... – samcarter_is_at_topanswers.xyz Jul 28 at 16:09
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    @samcarter_is_at_topanswers.xyz I'm kinda confused. We stopped giving out swag over a year ago - how is that in any way connected to this? I'd be asking whether this means swag can come back, not implying that this is why swag was cancelled. :) – Catija Jul 28 at 19:32
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    Why would anyone downvote this? This is good news for everyone. Without funding you don't have a site. Just in case, people have forgotten, Monica Cellio was fired before the CEO was appointed. – Mari-Lou A Jul 28 at 19:50
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    @Mari-LouA I downvote because that money is spent on a direction I don't like. They change Stack Exchange from the very core, and as someone who likes this core, I don't like what they do. The aborted swag events are good example. And with a company having hundreds of employees and high expenses on resources, $85 million dollars are a drop in the ocean, it won't last more than a year. So we'll have to hope the direction they're going will give actual profit. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Jul 28 at 20:00
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    @Shadow Losing swag is something we can live with. In actual fact in my 7 years I have not received a single item from the company, and I never expected to. Moreover, try running a business on millions of users who use a platform free of charge. The money has to come from somewhere. Lastly, the company acted appallingly last year, and when Shog9 was sacked I was dumbstruck but maybe they simply could no longer afford to keep him? Layoffs is a necessary evil, you sever a limb to save the person... – Mari-Lou A Jul 28 at 20:07
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    @Mari-LouA because it is bad news disguised as good news - it is saying that they are further moving from the community. Its the reason I have never seen, nor ever advocate, nor ever use SO for careers and have moved away from it completely with Teams (in the few companies that considered it). It continues to focus on new programmers which I have plenty of resources to find and train. The hiring people I consulted for - wanted experienced developers which are very hard to find. Changing the focus and trying to dress it up again and again is why we downvote. – LinkBerest Jul 28 at 20:41
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    @AdamLawrence The company name we generally use is "Stack Overflow" - that's the original and most recognized part of the product. Announcements that are about the company apply to SO and the SE network together. – Catija Jul 28 at 23:50
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    I would also like to point out that we still haven't received an apology for the way we were treated while the company dropped the ball. At best, we got a nonpology that just added insult to injury. A company that truly values it's volunteers can at the very least treat us decently by actually taking responsibility and not just continuing on without. – fbueckert Jul 29 at 11:45
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    @ouflak Uh. Jon Ericson's blog would disagree with that. Specifically: "I was repeatedly told that Stack Exchange sites cost too much and that interacting with the moderators of those sites was a waste of time." – fbueckert Jul 29 at 12:14
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    @YaakovEllis Right now? Perhaps not. But I don't believe SE has actually shown us it's no longer accurate. You have a large hill to climb to regain that trust, and while actions are what we need for that, an actual apology doesn't seem unreasonable. Ignoring that just continues to reinforce the feeling that we're just expected to forgive and forget the past. That...leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. – fbueckert Jul 29 at 12:37
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    @YaakovEllis on the other hand, it kinda informs on the years of neglect and a period of barely hidden hostility from within the company and the difficulties of recovering from that. The work ahead is as much dealing with the wreckage of past actions as much as building the new and shiny future – Journeyman Geek Jul 29 at 13:33
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    Historically the CM role has been hired much like any other job. While there's certainly a preference for mods, I don't think that a vote in for CMs is practical for a lot of reasons. If nothing else privacy and other pesky legal matters. As someone who has applied for the role in the past unsuccessfully - I also feel that might close the door to good candidates from outside the community - as many great past CMs were – Journeyman Geek Jul 30 at 19:27

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There's a lot in that announcement about "enabling developers and technologists". A large number of sites in the SE network are not about topics related to that. There is a signficant number of sites that aren't about technology, and SE does talk less and less about these.

What is the role of the non-technical sites in the overall strategy of SE?

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    I obviously don't know what the strategy is, but I can speculate what I think could be the role of those sites. If SE had the choice to start with these sites now, I'd say there is barely any strategic benefit at all of starting them. But the sites exist, and they are part of the community, part of the family. Therefore, large parts of the community will likely be very upset if these sites are abandoned completely. Completely neglecting the sites reflects poorly on the quality of the product, so is also undesirable. Thus, the sites should be maintained by SE, because the community wants it. – Discrete lizard Jul 29 at 8:53
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    @Discretelizard When Joel started Trello the idea was that there weren't enough developers in the world to make it viable, so they targeted it towards "wedding planners" (an an example in their user documentation). I don't know how, if at all, that principle applies to making SE succeed commercially (by which I mean "IPO")! – ChrisW Jul 29 at 11:21
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    @madscientist It's true we define our mission as "helping write the script of the future by serving developers and technologists." That is where our community and our business intersect. As each side of this coin succeeds, it helps to support the other. Our ultimate goal is to create an ecosystem of communities and products, providing a holistic experience for our developer and technologist users where they are able to share knowledge and collaborate on a broad range of topics. That mission, while very focused on the end users we serve, is not restricted to highly technical topics. – Prashanth Chandrasekar Jul 30 at 0:40
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    When they renamed the company from Stack Exchange to Stack Overflow, they announced that the name change was meant to indicate that they were focussing on developers. – Flimm Jul 30 at 13:42
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    Just to make sure I understood the comment by Prashanth Chandrasekar, I kind of summarize it. The company does not sell software for non-programmers, but maybe one day it will and then the non-programming communities will play a more important role. Programmers also includes technical enthusiasts. – Trilarion Jul 30 at 15:55
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    @Trilarion I read it more as, we are focusing on developers now, but we'll continue to give developers places to talk about not-development. And we don't really have time for non-developers any more. – Asteroids With Wings Jul 31 at 23:26
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    @Flimm Apparently it got renamed back to Stack Exchange Inc. in the meantime. – wizzwizz4 Aug 1 at 9:42
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    That's a good point. I don't know much of the history of SE-as-a-product but it seems fairly clear virtually every other SE site now exists as a hobby-community and is not really going to generate much cash for anyone. – Mr. Boy Aug 3 at 14:51
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    @Mr.Boy there used to be a promotion on Sci-Fi SE to get more comics book questions asked (slight favouritism of one of the CMs at the time maybe), but that could have easily been tied into a sponsored promotion by distributor or publisher, which could have produced revenue. Similar lines could be taken in some other sites. – Pureferret Aug 3 at 14:53
  • @Pureferret that's interesting. I mean sure anywhere there is a lot of people there is some money but what % of overall traffic does SO, SU and perhaps SF make up? – Mr. Boy Aug 3 at 15:06
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    @Mr.Boy have a look stackexchange.com/sites?view=list#traffic – Pureferret Aug 3 at 16:03
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    @Pureferret I'd be surprised if the top fifth of those don't generate an income, and the top third don't break even. There's a lot of 10K+ daily visitors sites listed there. I understand there are reasons you'd sever a profit making division, but those don't usually happen in web type businesses, since the overhead costs are usually automated, rather than issues with labor/space/regulation (more typical reasons for dissolving profit making divisions). Maybe it's not a lot compared to SO, but if a site is profitable, then it's negligible effort to keep it operational. – frеdsbend Aug 3 at 20:46
  • @ChrisW When I spoke to Joel in person, from his description it was very well understood how they'd make SO viable from the get-go. I don't know for sure but it sounded very different from when he started Trello. – Qix - MONICA WAS MISTREATED Aug 10 at 18:53
  • @Qix-MONICAWASMISTREATED The impression I got from this interview was that they tried ways to monetise it -- e.g. their "Jobs" side-line -- and were surprised to discover almost by accident that companies had a use-case for private Teams and would pay for that. – ChrisW Aug 10 at 18:58
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Congrats and good luck.

As a former moderator who has long since abandoned hope that Stack Exchange will put money/actions to words regarding community, let me say: you now have a clear opportunity to do so.

Trust me, people care about this. Broken promises in this regard will continue to erode community trust.

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    Thanks for the kind words @enderland. As I said to Journeyman Geek, we recognize the opportunity before us, and that earning and keeping the trust of the community is paramount to the success of Stack. We're grateful for everything our users contribute to our platform, and we're trying to be more transparent about outlining our commitments to the community and then delivering on those roadmaps. – Prashanth Chandrasekar Jul 31 at 13:53
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    @PrashanthChandrasekar, speaking as someone who used to be much more engaged on Stack Exchange than I am today, I want you to know that the most encouraging thing I see is you taking the time to engage personally with the responses here. Thank you for that. – Wildcard Aug 8 at 22:59
  • Won't happen. VC money means strings are attached. They want their $85 million back with, ideally, a few hundred percent profit. – user253751 Aug 17 at 17:36
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$85 million undoubtedly comes with major strings attached: a veritable tag.

Qn: What strings are attached?

Without knowing precisely what those strings are, the community cannot have an informed opinion as to whether this is good or bad. Despite not having a say, these contractual obligations impact us too.

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    Well - at the very least one of the new investors - GIC of Singapore has a seat on the board. – Journeyman Geek Jul 29 at 1:29
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    Yes, do the VCs now control the board or isn't there any change in this regard (the original terms in 2010 (series A) were very favorable)? In others word, does Joel Spolsky still control the board? Often, what is not said is the most interesting. – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jul 29 at 11:57
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    @P.Mort.-forgotClayShirky_q I gathered from the April 2019 interview, not that Joel controlled the board, but that the board were willing to listen (and willing to take "no" for an answer from) the founder-and-CEO -- and that now the company is on a different, "high growth" track or roadmap (and Joel's no longer CEO, though he appeared to agree with the change or new direction, the "playbook", and/or recognise it as inevitable). – ChrisW Jul 29 at 12:26
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    Very good question and concern. We want to have an answer on that. – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Jul 29 at 17:49
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    The obvious strings are that SO is expected to show strong growth in revenue or profit. The company probably has a plan how to achieve that and part of the plan seems to be more staff also for the public Q&A. – Trilarion Jul 30 at 18:04
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    Actually, you know: greater valuation must come with expectations of greater profits, so we know the board will push the management to squeeze us further. – Nemo Aug 3 at 10:06
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I'm glad that maybe things might have turned a corner.

That said, over the past decade or so we've had a few bright spots and a few dark ones, so I'd feel that it's a matter of consistency over time.

This funding will allow us to hire additional support for the Community team. We’ll be opening CM roles, a second PM role on the Public Platform team, as well as additional developers and designers to help support the things we need to build.

This is excellent news but I suspect it's not just about opening up roles (which were actually quite adeptly, if not adequately filled in the past). It's about giving support to the Community Team, ensuring they have the resources on the whole, and ensuring folks are here for the long run, not just until some other department needs more funding.

Our recently-announced Q3 roadmap will stay as-is since we won't be able to grow the Community Team quickly enough to work on anything this quarter

Might not even need that for the Community Team to have an effect. Even with the existing roadmap - having more people to share the load's going to be a net positive.

One key indicator though, isn't in the roadmap. It's in rebuilding trust. There's a lot of folks who left in anger or disgust over past actions of the company. There's various issues pending that need to be addressed. Some of these things are harder than others. Other have roadblocks.

That's to say, it's awesome the company has funding, but the net effect for us is dependent on how the company works over the next half decade, or decade or however long it is. All this would be for naught if this newfound re-focus on the community is forgotten with the next change of the internal political winds.

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    When we say that we won't be able to grow the Community Team, that's mostly an indication that getting a job posting up and candidates interviewed and hired is unlikely to happen in the two months we have before the end of the quarter - it just takes longer than that. Plus, getting people onboarded... so we can't really adjust Q3 for people who aren't on staff yet. :) – Catija Jul 28 at 19:34
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    @Catija: After you were hired we had to adjust our expectations for how long on-boarding would take. You were making positive contributions long before you were hired. (And there are other people I know who have similar profiles. ;-) But yeah. Hiring takes time so we need to practice a bit of patience. – Jon Ericson Jul 28 at 19:44
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    1/ Hello Journeyman Geek - thanks for your question and your cautious optimism. You’re right, this will take time, and our ask is that you stick with us as we prove this is a priority. We’ve made public commitments about products and support we’re going to deliver, about roles that are open and roles we’re hoping to hire for, and about how we plan to use this investment overall. As we’ve seen over the last four months, sometimes organizations face external challenges to which they must adapt quickly. That’s true for an individual, a family, a company, or a nation. – Prashanth Chandrasekar Jul 28 at 23:58
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    2/ I would say, hold us to account. I feel proud of our team’s follow through on the Q2 community roadmap we posted, and I’m optimistic we will do the same for the Q3 roadmap posted last week. I acknowledge there is still lots of work to be done rebuilding the trust between the company and Community, and my leadership team and I remain committed to that task. I’m proud of the leadership we have in place for Product and Community with Teresa Dietrich and Sara Chipps, and I’m excited to see where we can go together if we build on the momentum in our community engagement and our business. – Prashanth Chandrasekar Jul 28 at 23:58
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    Slightly related: Software and Community Management with Josh Heyer (AKA Shog9) and Jon Ericson (podcast episode, 1 h 02 min, 2020-06-29).) – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jul 29 at 12:11
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I have a couple of related questions about user engagement metrics and trends, based on a plot you showed in the blog post. I've made a couple of annotations:

Annotated version of the figure showing user engagement in the SO blog post, showing jumps in the first quarter and a recent period of stagnation

My question is threefold. First, what is the metric by which the company is measuring the number of "engaged users"? Is it signups, folks who've posted at least once during the given period, or some other metric?

Second, how confident is the company that the growth this year will continue? I've noticed that going back to 2013, we've seen a sharp jump in user engagement during the first quarter of each year, but often that's the yearly net gain in users is at most (and in some cases much less) than that. This year, we seem to have broken that pattern by seeing a second large spike in user engagement.

My first thought is that it might be pandemic-related; if so, then that spike could subside as, at least in some countries, life returns to normal. Does the company attribute the spike to something else that indicates that we'll actually see continued growth beyond the three-year period of essentially no growth that we've seen since 2017? That's partly why I'm interested in the y-axis: Is the metric for engagement one that might be able to differentiate between a short-term increase and long-term retention?

Finally, is this jump also seen across network sites, or is it just Stack Overflow?

I guess the bottom line is that I'm wondering if the recent increase is here to stay, or if it's a blip. I know that y'all can't read the future, but you have a better idea of the data and trends than I do.

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    I've seen it attributed directly to dark mode being implemented (not that i agree) – user400654 Jul 28 at 16:05
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    Engagement is measured by a post, comment, or vote. Not signups. We never make assumptions growth wise, it's something we watch, and optimize for. I like to think that we're thoughtful about growth in general, and don't aim for "growth for growth's sake". – Sara Chipps Jul 28 at 16:09
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    @SaraChipps Ah, so it's a broader set of activities than I thought - thanks. That's interesting; I guess voting and commenting might be better indicators of continued site usage than only posting a question or answer. – HDE 226868 Jul 28 at 16:11
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    @SaraChipps Does this include "anonymous feedback" as engagement, like votes while not logged in and anonymous edits? – Nick Jul 28 at 16:13
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    No, only logged in users. – Sara Chipps Jul 28 at 17:18
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    The yearly occurrence of "first-quarter jumps" is an interesting phenomenon. Is it known what may cause them? Do people take a New Year's resolution to post more on SO? Are inactive users reminded of SO somehow? – Discrete lizard Jul 29 at 8:26
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    @Discretelizard It looks to me like not a start-of-year jump but instead an end-of-year dip -- i.e. the graph is a steady and smooth, but with a big dip over each winter holiday and a smaller dip for summer holidays. – ChrisW Jul 29 at 11:14
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    @SaraChipps if for example someone posts a question followed by 10 comments explaining how it deviates from help center guidance and by 10 down votes, would that qualify as increase of engagement by total (1+10+10)=21 "engagement points"? – gnat Jul 29 at 12:36
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    @ChrisW Hmm, well if you include summer and autumn in the end-of-the-year, then you can call it that, but to me it looks like Q1 is the only 'non-dip' quarter, where the rest of the year either keeps it steady for a while or just decreases, with a small peak around September due to students. – Discrete lizard Jul 29 at 13:57
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    @Discretelizard There's a dip in the last two months of every year (I would have expected one month, only). And a dip which lasts all summer, why could that be -- students on holiday? I didn't know that so many users are students. It's not a big drop though -- e.g. the difference between the peak and trough of 2019 is only 10%. – ChrisW Jul 29 at 14:11
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    Another thing to note is that user engagement (i.e. public community) != revenue. I think that SE expect to make their revenue from selling Teams, and it's that which they intend to grow a lot. I've no idea whether, why, or how much growth they expect or want of the "public community". – ChrisW Jul 29 at 15:17
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    @ChrisW Western Hemisphere is both students, reflection, and when employees take vacations. I used to run into this when planning Sprints as summer equaled less workers in general both from vactions (actually this could be counter-balanced by flu season) and from just people with children having trouble getting childcare and people looking over past quarters to see what was done/still to be done/still had budget for and etc... (granted I haven't fully done the research on this so might have just been a local thing) – LinkBerest Jul 30 at 0:16
  • @LinkBerest Traditionally in France everyone takes their holidays in August (not June or July), so I was puzzled -- but yes, in America and everywhere I guess holidays may be any time. Maybe there's a dip associated with Spring Break too. There looks to be some year on year pattern, a somewhat regular seasonal variation. – ChrisW Jul 30 at 11:21
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    A single quantity can never really fully describe the state of something so complex as SO, you would have to look at number of questions, answers, visits, ... separately to get a more complete picture. This is just for the sake of completeness. – Trilarion Jul 30 at 18:42
  • Oh? So my comment with the link to my analysis of how many answers the CoC shenanigans have cost SO so far finally got deleted? That took longer than I expected. Oh well, you can censor all you like, but that doesn't make the facts go away. – Ansgar Wiechers Aug 18 at 10:41
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This is great and all, but the fact that it took you getting extra funding in order to replace the lost Community Managers shows they still aren't a priority. Without Community Managers the network falls apart, the sites fall into chaos, including Stack Overflow. Without regular community members being impressed with these sites no one will want to pay for Teams. Please return to the old strategy: invest in the community and the public network sites and you'll have the biggest team of advocates for your paid products you could ever see. "Come and see for free the excellent experience we provide, and then recommend to management that your company pay for our commercial products." That's a far better return on investment than you'll ever see through advertising or sales.

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    Perhaps you're right but I'm not sure that -- i.e. enthusiastic users recommending to their managers -- is what drives sales. I thought maybe SE is selling to billion-dollar companies -- banks etc. -- and that the selling point is, "studies show that using this saves you money". – ChrisW Jul 29 at 10:01
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    @chrisw yes, a Forbes or HBR or WSJ or etc article with statistics is a big deal. But from experience that is followed by them asking their "tech" guy or gal: "What do you think of this?" (if only to get some technical info to add to their report or proposal) – LinkBerest Jul 29 at 13:28
  • @ChrisW Billion dollar companies would be looking at enterprise products. Teams would be more focused at small-medium businesses, right? I don't know what the biggest Team would be, but I feel like it would get unwieldy with thousands of users. – curiousdannii Jul 31 at 1:54
  • @ChrisW I'm not sure that's enough of a selling point but it might be part of it. I would take a wild guess and say that businesses swayed by something as vague as "studies say this saves you money" will have lots of options (tons of sites say that), and I'd guess they'll settle on a far more well known brand (e.g., Microsoft). I'm also not even really sure why a high level manager would care whether SO is geared towards developers, if anything I've seen a lot of general "productivity ideas" that fit "everyone" (and don't really mean anything), – jrh Jul 31 at 13:12
  • Or to put it another way, if I pretend I knew nothing about SO or how the Q/A model worked, and somebody pitched it to me ("...organizing internal knowledge, etc..."), I'd probably say "How is that better than just putting documents on a sharepoint server and doing powerpoint presentation training sessions in meetings?" and that'd be the end of it because O365 is pretty much universal in a corporate environment and most employees will know how to use it. – jrh Jul 31 at 13:18
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    @jrh What I gathered from the interview (from memory!) was that big-business C-level people met Joel at some party, said "How's it going?" and "Hey can we try it internally?" and Joel let ten of them have it -- companies like banks, maybe an oil company -- and forgot about it. It turned out their trying it worked very well for them, which surprised SE but told SE that that is a viable business model, a previously untapped market, which they now go all-in on. I imagine (don't know) the users mostly aren't developers -- maybe they're the banks' investors, etc., i.e. other kinds of technologist. – ChrisW Jul 31 at 14:04
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    @ChrisW I'd be interested to hear more on the details of that but unfortunately I doubt that's publicly available, I still have a hard time getting into the heads of people that buy into private Q/A. Nobody I've worked for or with would have been the slightest bit interested (engineers, and management at all levels), so it must be a totally different environment, solving totally different problems, and that's pretty interesting to think about. – jrh Jul 31 at 15:08
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    The CMs were dropped more than six months ago. Where's the chaos? Teams is thriving. You're just scaremongering with nothing to back up your claims. At the very least you're asserting to know more about running a massive business than an actual CEO, which is rather unlikely. – Asteroids With Wings Jul 31 at 23:30
  • @ChrisW Clearly, the Q&A model works for any topic. The difficulty in not fixating on an industry for your products is that you multiply the complications. Things like "Well, this works for bankers, but doctors don't seem to get it. How can we serve both at the same time, without having Teams for Doctors and Teams for Bankers?" – frеdsbend Aug 3 at 20:58
38

You wrote,

As I said there, our public community and commercial products are symbiotically linked. One cannot succeed without the other, and the more one prospers, the more it can propel the success of the pair.

Since you ask, why and how is it important to the commercial product that the public community must succeed? What measures the success of the public community, and how are those metrics relevant to the commercial product? Which public community do you mean, i.e. is that SO in particular or are they all important somehow to the commercial product? Perhaps you think the answer is obvious, I'm not sure it is; see also Yaakov Ellis's answer to Why does the company want to increase engagement on Stack Overflow?.

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    This is one of the things I think is most interesting about the model Stack Overflow has, I don't think there is currently one like it at our size. Other large communities, namely social media sites, have monetized their community directly. They sell ads indiscriminately and sometimes community data directly. SO uses revenue from complimentary products to make sure the community can keep going and thrive. – Sara Chipps Jul 28 at 15:40
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    There are quite a few metrics we measure for community health, engagement is one, question and answer quality is another, we've recently taken a step back to evaluate the best way to measure community health across the network. I'd love to share it publicly once we arrive at a place we are happy with it. – Sara Chipps Jul 28 at 15:42
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    I'm interested. I gathered from from Joel's interview than the commercial product is Teams and that the selling point is that customers save money. That's such a strong selling point IMO that why is the public community still important? I don't know. Is it for public fame and goodwill at IPO time? Are we a test lab, like we're beta-testing software that'll then be used commercially? Is there some important difference between public and commercial communities (e.g. "commercial communities" are the customers' employees, a bit of a captive audience, and maybe need moderating quite differently)? – ChrisW Jul 28 at 15:50
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    "SO Exploits it's public community to support it's commercial product." fixed – user400654 Jul 28 at 15:59
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    The public community is important as it's central to all of our lives. There may be a more impactful company answer to that, and for that I will defer to others. However, Stack Overflow changed my life, and the lives of every coder I know. I imagine there are many people here who have a similar Stack Exchange story. I've been in countless meetings where ideas are shut down because though they would make money, they would sacrifice the integrity of the community. I think that's a really neat thing about working here. – Sara Chipps Jul 28 at 16:00
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    Glad you like it. My "life was changed" by CompuServe forums and this is an iteration/evolution of that (I came here via Joel on Software). I want the commerce to succeed. I'm curious to know what motivates the company (because "to understand all is to forgive all"), and what changes (evolution) the "public community" should expect over time (foresight instead of feeling like a boiled frog), and possibly what we can do to help (which requires understanding your commercial motives or constraints). – ChrisW Jul 28 at 16:25
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    It'd easy to think, "they're independent, the public community is pro bono and the commercial product is different people". That'd be contradicted though by the CEO's saying, "symbiotically linked, one cannot succeed without the other" etc. So though you (Sara) are on the "public community" side of the operation, might it be better for everyone to see the bigger picture, the same page or "playbook" as the CEO? I guess there's uncertainty and not counting chickens before they hatch, but "not keeping people in the dark" might be cost-free, and improve that "trust" which other answers mention. – ChrisW Jul 28 at 17:07
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    @SaraChipps There are lots of sites with the same model. GitHub is one of the most prominent. "Come and see for free the excellent experience we provide, and then recommend to management that your company pay for our commercial products." And for both SE and GitHub, the moment that public experience stops being excellent revenue for the commercial products will drop. – curiousdannii Jul 28 at 22:36
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    That makes sense. Their original model was more freemium, but they've since pivoted. I guess I was thinking of us being the same since the beginning and setting out to do this as the differentiator. – Sara Chipps Jul 29 at 1:15
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    @ChrisW: What Joel interview are you referring to? – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jul 29 at 11:47
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    @SaraChipps "Other large communities, namely social media sites, have monetized their community directly." - Correct, but that comparison doesn't mean much, because SO isn't social media. SO is quite like Wikipedia - we're collecting and curating knowledge. The Wikimedia Foundation collects donations to provide services to its community. That's the way it should be. SO Inc. thinks its community exists to make money for the company. That won't work. – jcsahnwaldt Reinstate Monica Jul 29 at 20:34
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    @jcsahnwaldtReinstateMonica: This, this, and a thousand times this! What Prashanth wrote above is that "the public community and commercial products are symbiotically linked. One cannot succeed without the other." What my experience here on SO/SE over the last decade (not just last year's f***ups, but the long term neglect of the public Q&A side as the company focused on what they hoped to be profitable side projects) tells me is that they also cannot succeed with each other. What I'm hoping for is that the company will eventually realize this, and spin the public Q&A off as a non-profit. – Ilmari Karonen Aug 5 at 9:42
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    … Because I fear that the alternative is that, a few more years down the road, SO will finally exhaust its venture funding opportunities, go bankrupt and get bought out by a domain squatter. Or, perhaps more likely, their only remaining options for raising further capital to avoid bankruptcy will basically amount to the same thing. – Ilmari Karonen Aug 5 at 9:42
25

Forcing us through the CoC to be overprotective towards new users and increasing rewards for low value questions like "What does print("dog") do in python?" will undoubtedly contribute to SE's growth.

But in the long run SE will inevitably turn into another low quality website like Quora, if "number of contributions" is your most important metric.

It feels as if funding is all that matters, regardless of the long-term consequences.

What are the plans regarding the long-term drop in quality?

  • Is this considered to be an issue?
  • How will it be mitigated?

“We will continue to invest in our community and in internal resources to help address areas where employees have felt under-resourced historically.”

Many highly-contributing community members have quit because of SE-staff's decisions (CoCs, lack of accountability, removing the power of MetaSE through the Loop and outright banning specific topics for discussion with the pretext of "this might offend someone" or "this is now considered off-topic, use X opaque means to contact us", etc).

Therefor, with all due respect, the community which the investors intend to invest in, does not include people objecting the above actions.

Nevertheless, I'd like to know:

  • Is reduced freedom of speech on SE considered to be a problem?

  • Will any of the aforementioned decisions be reversed?

By freedom of speech i mean:

  • the freedom to criticize new policies
  • the freedom to discuss mod actions without repercussions
  • the freedom to interact with (new) users without being overprotective
  • the freedom to not speak (IIRC there was a related clause in one of the CoCs)

It goes without saying, when all the above are done in a professional manner (that is, respectfully, while protecting the anonymity of users involved when needed, without re-posting unquestionably offensive content, just like in SO)

Will you give us this freedom back?


Addressing feedback in comments

Cracking down on rudeness and bigotry isn't restricting free speech

It actually is, when used as a pretext to ban any criticism of implemented policies. Rudeness and bigotry has never been allowed on SE, so claiming the new massive changes are addressing that, is simply wrong.

If you don't have the time to leave a non-rude comment, then simply don't comment at all. Arguing "I should be allowed to be rude!" isn't going to go very far.

I never said I want to post rude comments. I actually said the exact opposite:

But if we assume we behave somewhere between "wrapping in cotton" to "neutral professional attitude" [...]

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    I highly disagree with the position that freedom of speech is being restricted (along with the "forced speech" arguments). Cracking down on rudeness and bigotry isn't restricting free speech; it's enforcing social rules without which abuse and harassment run rampant. – Mithical Jul 29 at 17:01
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    @Mithical your statement implies that "rudeness and bigotry" have ran rampant before the last CoCs were implemented. For a about a decade (when it comes to SE that is). But that was not the case. – user Jul 29 at 17:12
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    It is also not ok. The company also wasn't very effective at dealing with it, since they kinda lacked the will and resources to actually follow up in any effective manner. ""What does print("dog") do in python?" will undoubtedly contribute to SE's growth." - funnily, I'm old enough on my own site when questions like this were ok, cause no one had asked them before. And if they have been asked, we have robust systems in place to deal with them. There's a very large spectrum between wrapping up our new users in cotton wool, and giving them the third degree before allowing them to post. – Journeyman Geek Jul 29 at 22:09
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    @JourneymanGeek my worry there is the "downvote research" referenced in the Q3 projects as this seems like its going to pigback on the "reactions" to remove a moderation tool (downvote) in favor of social media tools. Also, referencing that: "wasn't" is still "isn't" in my book – LinkBerest Jul 30 at 1:53
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    @JourneymanGeek "There's a very large spectrum" - indeed. But if we assume we behave somewhere between "wrapping in cotton" to "neutral professional attitude", SE shouldn't be allowed to force under threat of bans to move more to the left side of the spectrum. That should be optional. (Not because i hate politeness, but because I love quality and also because my time is limited.) – user Jul 30 at 5:53
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    @JourneymanGeek "follow up in any effective manner" - Could you give a few examples of how they could do that? – user Jul 30 at 5:54
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    Simply "telling" people what to do doesn't work. For any real change, there needs to be engagement with the core of the community. You can't also do it overnight, its a process. A mod would do this by engaging with their core community, talking to them and setting expectations that are reasonable and reachable, and giving feedback when needed. Its not about "left" or "right" but rather working through realistic goals, and having the ability to effect change by moral suasion as much as other means. For me, that involves asking nicely first. You can't influence people you don't know – Journeyman Geek Jul 30 at 6:23
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    As for "freedom of speech", the old XKCD aside, there's no guarantee of it on privately owned space (people confuse themselves with the first amendment so badly). It certainly isn't an excuse to say whatever you like, however you like. From a mod perspective - our communities are important to us, even through periods where the company forgets about us, and ensuring things stay nice and civil is part of the commitment we have to them. This might occationally require us letting folks know where the boundaries are and discouraging folks from crossing them. – Journeyman Geek Jul 30 at 6:24
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    As far as meta goes - to a large extent , the mods are heavily the folks shoveling the stalls and ensuring meta stays relevant to the community and company is important - this might mean enforcing politeness and ensuring that the discourse here is constructive. I'm sure many other mods would wish the same of their sites. – Journeyman Geek Jul 30 at 6:27
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    @Aibobot do you refer to xkcd 1357? I can't link it because of its vulgar nature. As for the XKCD, it's completely irrelevant: I don't mind criticism. On the contrary I want it. Then it conflates criticism with consequences like an internet mob organizing and posting veiled threats of company defamation to my employer, to have me fired. It's only accurate on one thing: "people don't have to listen to something they don't like". True, they can simply scroll to another post. Deleting what they don't like, though, is completely different. As for free speech and SE, I don't ..... [1/2] – user Jul 30 at 6:33
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    "SE shouldn't be allowed to force under threat of bans to move more to the left side of the spectrum. That should be optional." - No, it shouldn't. SE has the right to decide what they allow on their own site. They've decided to not allow rudeness. If you don't have the time to leave a non-rude comment, then simply don't comment at all. Arguing "I should be allowed to be rude!" isn't going to go very far. – Mithical Jul 30 at 6:35
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    Well no. It wasn't really allowed at all. People seem to forget this quite a lot. But considering that we are trying to work through many of these issues, some with actual progress it might be awesome to take stock of recent events through your own eyes, good or bad. Much like for our newbies, research can be educational – Journeyman Geek Jul 30 at 7:00
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    Well no because there's just too much and many posts covering the same ground. I'd suggest starting with the roadmap and digging up feedback posts. Yaakov posted many of them early on but I am seeing more variation in who posts them. – Journeyman Geek Jul 30 at 7:30
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    @JourneymanGeek They're not confusing public and private speech; you're confusing should and must. The government must tolerate rude speech. Everyone else should. – StackOverthrow Jul 31 at 15:39
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    No we don't. And that's a core part of our moderation culture – Journeyman Geek Jul 31 at 22:33
23

What about testing?

Back in 2013, Marco Cecconi (who was a Stack Overflow developer at the time) mentioned in a talk that Stack Overflow has very few tests because of the awesome community that reports bugs. Testing is a necessary part of any software project and traditionally companies hire Quality Assurance Engineers. (Stack Exchange even has a site just for them!) At the time, there were tests for Jobs (née Careers). As far as I know, testing on public Q&A is still outsourced to Meta.

In Q1, JNat published Our Commitment to Responding to Meta and Moderators. A large part of the process falls to CMs. That's not the worst stopgap solution, but genuine quality assurance requires a team of individuals dedicated to testing changes and preventing regression. And they need to have the full backing of the organization to ensure that bugs are fixed before writing new code.

While we are on the topic of the Joel Test, may I direct your attention to #10:

10. Do you have testers?

If your team doesn’t have dedicated testers, at least one for every two or three programmers, you are either shipping buggy products, or you’re wasting money by having $100/hour programmers do work that can be done by $30/hour testers. Skimping on testers is such an outrageous false economy that I’m simply blown away that more people don’t recognize it.

Read Top Five (Wrong) Reasons You Don’t Have Testers, an article I wrote about this subject.

In a sense, Stack Overflow has an army of testers. You won't ever find a group of people who care more about quality. But the process of prioritizing and fixing those bugs has been broken for years. If Stack Overflow is to benefit fully from the generosity of Meta, I believe it must have at least one person on staff with the sole responsibility of getting bugs triaged, fixed and tested. With $85 million, it should be possible to hire that person.

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    Good suggestion, to which I would add just two notes: 1) Joel vastly underestimates both the price and the worth of a good test engineer: you'll pay more than $30/hour, and save much more than the cost of two programmers. IF... 2) you gotta make testing part of the release process. A non-optional part. The thing that held CMs back more'n anything wasn't that they couldn't design tests - it was that they'd frequently only learn of changes when they hit production! If you're gonna pay someone to QA your work, you gotta actually carve out time for them to do it - then fix what they find. – Shog9 Aug 4 at 22:58
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    and frankly on a commercial product, can't really rely completely on the community (or communities) to handle it. Its not like everyone can post a meta post with full details, and if a paying or potential customer finds a bug, or a mis-feature, it could be a dealbreaker. On public Q&A, the reaction is "OOH! BUG!" SO teams certainly could do with it – Journeyman Geek Aug 5 at 2:43
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    Looking at that army of testers I guess hiring Jeremy is out of the question but JonH does contracting work IIRC. Having him for 6 to 8 weeks integrate into the dev team with his knowledge would be beneficial for everybody. – rene Aug 5 at 6:50
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    Thanks. This is definitely something that is very important, and an issue that we are working on improving. Currently, there is always a dev from the public platform team on bug duty (so this is similar to having one person on the team responsible for just working on bugs and small issues, all the time). Our unit testing framework has thousands of unit and integration tests, has received a significant amount of attention over the past year. (1/3) – Yaakov Ellis Aug 5 at 8:40
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    We have a Test Engineer whose job is to focus on this, and we are working to really institutionalize good testing practices, building up our library as new features come out and as bugs are fixed. The migration to Net Core that concluded in the last year is allowing us to also add different testing routines to areas of the code base where this had previously not been as feasible. And we are also working on the way in which we release and QA items internally, to try to maximize opportunities to find issues before they hit prod, and avoid the situations that Shog9 described above. (2/3) – Yaakov Ellis Aug 5 at 8:44
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    This is not to say that everything is fixed, and there is not room for improvement. There definitely are still a lot of things to work on here. But I did want to answer and give insight into the status quo on the testing front, and to agree with the gist of what you are saying about the importance of this. (3/3) – Yaakov Ellis Aug 5 at 8:46
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    @YaakovEllis: This is all very good news. I'm especially glad to hear about the Test Engineer. I would suggest that person work closely with the CMs and be visible on Meta, if you want to continue relying on community bug reports. Feedback that shows reports on meta matter to the development process is critical for people to be motivated to make those posts. Perhaps more importantly, a Test Engineer can help the community know what information matters to the company's QA process. – Jon Ericson Aug 5 at 16:04
22

"As I said there, our public community and commercial products are symbiotically linked. One cannot succeed without the other, and the more one prospers, the more it can propel the success of the pair. "

I wonder why you never really cared much about the community in the past and until yet then.

For me these seem like empty words you speak to only satisfy us.

You never really listened to the community in an appropriate and fair way, so where should this change in thinking now come from?

Yes, your commercial products and the community only live together, but why did you show so little in practice to care about the community if this is your real mindset?

Give the people what they want, satisfy them and you'll see your products will sell in a way you never can't imagine. It doesn't need 85 million dollar to make a change; it only needs a will in the first place.

I hope that you said the truth now and that things might change the next time, but until yet they are just words.

If the money really turns into a real benefit for the users we will see in the next months/years.

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    You never really listened to the community in an appropriate and fair way, so where should now this change in thinking come from? Remind me again when the CEO was appointed? – Mari-Lou A Jul 29 at 14:32
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    I find the following quite difficult to understand: Yes, your commercial products and the community only live together but why did you showed so less in practice to care about the community if this is your real mindset? What do you mean by "only live together"? – Mari-Lou A Jul 29 at 14:34
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    Hi @Mari-LouA - First from top to bottom. I don't get the point of your first question. Maybe you can help a little. – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Jul 29 at 14:38
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    @Mari-LouA "What do you mean by "only live together"?" - I mean that the products won't sell (or at least not sell in a way the company want it to be) when there is no community of users who are be able to trust and rely on the company. On the other hand and in the company's view, I understand that they have to get an income, f.e. by selling products on a commercial base. Without that income they couldn't develop, maintain and keep the network (it has costs) and there would be thus no community. It's a symbiosis as stated by Prashanth, but this symbiosis didn't work well in the past. – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Jul 29 at 14:50
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    «Maybe you can help a little.»Accusing someone of not listening when they were only appointed in October 2019, and were not responsible for the firing of Cellio, is just aiming at an easy target. The new CEO needed a few months to get up to speed before they could feel comfortable and confident enough to see where the real problems lay, and then in March we had the COVID-19 pandemic, which must have set everything back at the very least two months. – Mari-Lou A Jul 29 at 14:51
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    @Mari-LouA I don't speak specific to one person only. I speak to the CEO and the company as whole entire entity as it in practice doesn't make much difference. -- But as you pointed now at it, I didn't knew that he already sits 9 months in the seat. Now I feel even more angry. 9 months is by far long enough to feel comfortable. I didn't saw many interaction with the community on his side in this time and especially because of the pandemic situation he should had been closer to the community as usual. I see here a great lack of responsibility and communication, which does not seem to get fixed. – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Jul 29 at 15:17
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    @Mari-LouA I agree with Robert as 9 months as a CEO and the roadmap is still to get data to research, new mod agreement, licencing switch we had, etc.. . It's why I posted to get attention to change that the communities wanted. Research for like downvote is nice, but it seem to me it's still the welcome wagon, but ver 2, can they drop the ball someday ? Can we just go ahead and make change that the community are waiting ? with the new CEO, SE seem to have lost the agility to call for change without endless study imo (and study/research cost time/money to do, so it limit everything in the end) – yagmoth555 Jul 29 at 15:35
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    Is there something specific you're looking for? This answer is really just 100% complaining, which is not constructive. – Asteroids With Wings Aug 1 at 11:58
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    @AsteroidsWithWings "Is there something specific you're looking for?" - Yes. --- "This answer is really just 100% complaining, which is not constructive."- Most critic isn't destructive. It is to improve specific thing and with that to be constructive. To show where the problems really are and maybe to get people who are responsible to finally change their mindset with coming more to the user and the community, talking more with them and let them participate in making decisions. --- If we finally could achieve that, this would be more than just constructive. Any party would benefit. – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 at 12:06
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    There's nothing specific here. If you have some concrete example of how you want the people to "change their mindset", then you can give it in your answer. Otherwise it just seems to be complaining for complaining's sake and I don't know how anyone would expect that to have a positive result for anybody. – Asteroids With Wings Aug 1 at 12:10
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    @AsteroidsWithWings "There's nothing specific here. If you have some concrete example of how you want the people to "change their mindset", then you can give it in your answer." - People seem to still not take a listen to the community demands although posted in thousands of posts and comments around Meta and SO Meta. Maybe they didn't saw it or pretend they didn't saw it. So, now I give them a concrete post to look at and respond as in the question is stated "Please leave any questions or comments below and..." – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 at 12:19
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    "...we will try to address them as best we can.". I have an concrete example but it is not inside the answer; it is the answer itself. If it is constructive we can't now just yet, but it is at least a try. – RobertS - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 at 12:19
11

We appreciate your continued support and dedication to Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network, and we are excited to have more resources to be able to work on problems and solutions with the community in the future.

I appreciate that SE Inc management is showing us that these are more than empty words.

9, 10 months ago, it felt very different. Thus I am simply grateful that the "new direction" is showing in your actions.

And I congratulate the whole team for the efforts that brought all of us to this point!

I am asking you to not get sloppy or less enthusiastic regarding the interactions with the user base. Not every conflict can easily be resolved, and not every business decision can please the content generating users. But we all have it in our hands to keep talking and working towards a future that results in "return on investment", no matter whether the investment is monetarily or our free time and creativity.

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  • Uh, what new direction? – user253751 Aug 17 at 17:37
  • @user253751 The fact that the CEO keeps talking to us. The fact that SE Inc. put out a plan of their activities and priorities, and that they talk about that. You might not agree with their course, but they are much more transparent about that, and it is obvious that they actually come back and listen to feedback. – GhostCat Aug 18 at 6:10
9

Our recently-announced Q3 roadmap will stay as-is since we won't be able to grow the Community Team quickly enough to work on anything this quarter, but we are kicking off research and collaboration across the Team and community for future plans.

As you tell the Q3 roadmap will stay as-is, I would ask, do you know when that item would be added to a roadmap?

I ask as I see a lot of study on the roadmap, but some changes are already waited.

To give an idea, there is some meta post discussing that change. (I surely forget other communities which pooled their members about that change.)

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    I can't tell you when that will happen but I can say that giving CMs the ability to do this is actively being worked on. I hope that's helpful. – Sara Chipps Jul 29 at 1:16
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    @SaraChipps Yes it's helpful! atleast I know it's a change weighed in by the upper management. We got CM with big heart. We got talked to have a change done on the side without a said project. Now pinging 'em too much after all that happened there (cm firing) would been unhealthy to them if the management wasn't aware of such change was planned. Now I will just wait to see futur roadmap. – yagmoth555 Jul 29 at 2:09

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