56

Background

As a 31-year-old male that is emotionally stable (I think...), I just spent the last two hours with tears running down my face as I read 10+ Stack Exchange (SE) posts, blog posts, GoFundMes, describing the events from a year ago regarding the one that everyone changed their names to support (a user's name on an unrelated post had caught my eye, and their profile took me down a rabbit hole).

This is one of the saddest things I have ever come across in a long time. I couldn't believe, how could something like this happen? Not just MC, but even all those caught in the crossfire along the way. All these users and moderators that I have never even heard of, but even as an "outsider" I can recognize, this is a tragedy.

I've been using SE for the past 10 years and am one of those that just uses SE to solve their problems. But I've grown to love SE, appreciate the community, and enjoy exploring all the different sites. One of my favorite ways to distract myself while working is looking through all the interesting "Hot Network Questions".

I've grown to really love SE, and all the communities that formed, even though I never really participated. As someone with no account, I really appreciated the regular users and moderators that would take time to answer questions, comment, participate, debate, etc. While reading what happened to MC, I love how I could see that the community really came alive and really came to the forefront of what SE really is. SE was no longer just a Q&A site, and that realization will stay with me. SE is really a special place.

Question

So, in my attempt to hopefully not get this removed immediately, I'll ask my question: is SE OK now? I know MC has left, among many, many others, but also many have decided to stay, especially for the communities they've grown to love. Have you noticed progress or anything that inspires hope for the future for SE?

I'm maybe 10 months too late to the party, but what a sad thing, for SE to die because it could not apologize to one person and treat them as they should be treated. I don't think I can even understand why SE decided to take the stance they took.

All the timelines and posts I read, it's almost like the story just abruptly ends, and there's no happy ending and no reconciliation. Are we just carrying on now, business as usual? Are we trying to help and protect the communities that have developed, almost like a mother continuing to take care of her kids while in an abusive marriage? Am I just opening old wounds that have already started healing? I'm not sure where SE stands now (community, not the higher ups).

9
  • 11
    I would consider Teresa Dietrich's post here to be a turning point in the discussion. There has been other progress since then. Whether or not things are fully OK now probably depends on who you ask, but personally I think things are mostly OK, excepting of course the loss of several irreplaceable community members. – Alexander Gruber Nov 16 '20 at 19:06
  • @AlexanderGruber Thanks I hadn't seen that post, reading through it now. – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 19:10
  • 1
    See also: "The Way Forward", and related community posts. – Rob Nov 16 '20 at 19:20
  • 1
    @Rob Thanks, looks like I have some reading to do in Meta. I think today was my first time making my way over here to Meta, didn't even know the CEO made posts here. – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 19:28
  • 14
    @AlexanderGruber A real turning point in the discussion would be reinstating Monica. That, I think, would go a very long way toward things being more OK than they are now. Also, the post you linked does appear to be a step forward, but there's also this. – Ollie Nov 16 '20 at 19:30
  • 3
    I'd like to post an answer, but @Mithical has already said what needs to be said ;) – Ollie Nov 16 '20 at 20:13
  • 17
    "Am I just opening old wounds that have already started healing" - again, depends on who you ask. But I, for one, am glad that you posted this question, and I thank you. – Ollie Nov 16 '20 at 20:25
  • 14
    There was fire. The whole building was on flames. The flames are now gone, new furniture was brought, new people arrived, but the walls are still warm from the fire, marked with black spots, and glowing embers can still be found in random places. – Shadow Wizard is Vaccinating Nov 17 '20 at 7:34
  • 2
    Not sure yet, but this might be a pinch on the arm. Have a look at Shog9's answer, as well as all the others. – Ollie Dec 2 '20 at 23:25
52

It's.... complicated.

First off, there are still a lot of issues that never really got a satisfactory conclusion and kinda just faded into the background, with people either leaving or becoming more bitter as a result. For instance, we never got a real explanation of why Shog9 and Robert Cartaino were unceremoniously and discourteously fired as Community Managers; there has been absolutely no official communication from SE about that despite both CMs having been staples and champions of the community for nigh on a decade.

On the other hand, I can't deny that SE has recently been making strides to reconnect with the community and somewhat attempt to smooth things over; for instance, they've recently been making attempts to improve the workings of the power-user tools (moderator tools, review queues), and worked with community members to respond to the Lavender Letter.


There's been no real conclusion to the story with Monica because SE and Monica signed an agreement that limits both parties' ability to discuss the issue (to what extent remains unclear, especially as Monica and SE have placed the line in different places). I've personally recommended to Teresa and other members of the Community Team that they reach out to Monica to at least discuss (since Teresa only came on board after the whole '19 debacle), but I've heard nothing about that happening. (Incidentally, you can find Monica and a bunch of other users (including me) at the Codidact project, which is an open-source, non-profit Q&A site.)


It's worth keeping in mind, though, that the '19 debacle - which includes Monica's removal and associated fallout, the licensing issue, and dozens of smaller flareups - all come as a result of a deterioration in the relation between the company and the community that had been going on slowly for years, and came to a head in late '19.

The root issue of the company ignoring its community - including understaffing the CM team to the point where they're grossly overworked - still needs to be addressed. They've made some recent strides - including opening CM positions - but there's still a lot of work to do.

If you want to get into some of the history that led up to increased tensions between the community and company even before the "Monica incident", I wrote a post just before that happened. If you read through some of that, and the links at the bottom, it might help shed some light on why exactly the '19 debacle was as bad as it was; people were already frustrated even beforehand and this was the catalyst for it to really erupt. (And SE certainly didn't help.)


So to sum up: No, everything is not "okay"; there are still a lot of unaddressed issues. SE is starting to make attempts to mend the relationship with the community. It's a long hard road ahead for everyone involved, though, and it's going to take a lot of time.

11
  • 2
    Side note: This answer may presume a certain level of knowledge about SE and the Meta community and might not make perfect sense to people who are unfamiliar with some of the referenced events. If something doesn't make sense I'm happy to clarify. – Mithical Nov 16 '20 at 19:44
  • 9
    my understanding based on events and what I've heard was that a number of departments had to fire people due to lack of funding, and the Series E? F? round they received a few weeks later helped keep the company afloat (or having to keep from making really tough decisions). Shog and Robert got caught up in that (I wouldn't be surprised if people who lacked the context but held the power didn't realize how crucial Shog was) and if they de-emphasize Area 51 (which it seems like they are) then Robert doesn't seem to be critical to their needs either. – George Stocker Nov 16 '20 at 19:47
  • 1
    They'd never be able to tell us this, of course; but there are enough lines that we can read what's between them and draw conclusions. – George Stocker Nov 16 '20 at 19:48
  • 4
    I actually understand most of your references just from my reading today, and Shog9/Robert. I read about a lot more than just Monica, which I think is really why this is a huge tragedy. It's like something is really wrong, something that you see happen to a lot of things that once started off as something really good and beautiful. But I hope things will get better, I'll keep an eye on things. And I'll check out Codidact, thanks, saw it referenced in another answer also – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 19:49
  • 14
    @Mithical I think the hardest part for me to understand (and maybe cannot be fully understood due to NDA), is how Monica was treated even after this became a huge thing, even months later. How can someone be treated like that just for trying to clarify something for their own understanding? And isn't understanding the CoC vital to her role as a Mod? I do this all the time, just to make sure I fully understand what the other side is trying to convey, before I try responding or carrying out the instructions, etc. But why would Monica be seen as doing something wrong, by multiple people? – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 20:27
  • 6
    And why would a company built entirely on the health of its community allow things to become like this? I'm sure things will be ok eventually, but at least right now, my mind keeps stumbling over how non-sensical all of this is. – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 20:29
  • 10
    @the.Small.axe re: "How can someone be treated like that just for trying to clarify something for their own understanding?" - There are a lot of incomplete explanations of what exactly happened floating around (often stated as fact, and sometimes totally laughably wrong about Monica's position). There is a lot more agreement that Monica was treated unfairly than there is agreement that all she did was to ask for clarification. – Bryan Krause Nov 16 '20 at 22:02
  • @BryanKrause good point, and important to clarify. I read a little bit more from a post heather had made a while back. – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 23:11
  • 1
    @the.Small.axe Yes, of all the thousands of words written on meta around this I think heather's post was one of the most productive in approach and honest in perspective and I'm glad you've read it, I would recommend it to anyone new to what went on here. – Bryan Krause Nov 16 '20 at 23:19
  • 1
    @the.Small.axe: One takeaway is to never ask a question without stating it is not a rhetorical question (unless it is, of course). Otherwise it might get misinterpreted. – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Nov 17 '20 at 4:17
  • 1
    "there are still a lot of unaddressed issues" would you happen to have a list? – Mast Nov 17 '20 at 11:03
36

The TL;DR here is

Monica Cellio - There was a legal agreement between her and SE that they will never speak of what happened to her again. We don't know exactly what happened there (in any official sense) beyond what Monica initially said and later on MSE. SE has learned the hard way that this media interview was a mistake and there are now official policies about it.

The SE LGBT Community - They unfairly got the brunt of the fallout. There was an official apology and commitment to fix it.

Licensing - After withering criticism for how it was decided and handled, a reasonable attempt to bring back sanity was made. Things made under prior CC versions will stay under that version unless edited.

Shog9 - As best as I can tell, Shog9 was terminated as part of a corporate restructuring (a number of employees were let go at once). The timing was just terrible. Shog9 has gainful employment now and he still shares his wisdom from beyond the network. And sometimes from inside it.

The Community at large - What's really helped everyone move on is that Apology 3.0 contained actual deliverable goals and there's been measurable progress towards them. CMs and Devs both have worked to improve communication and real things are getting done.

Is it perfect? No. Monica is gone for good, and some people will forever have "Reinstate Monica" names and avatars in protest, a sign of the deep scar left by events. But there's cautious optimism and, some 9 months from Apology 3.0, there's not been anything even remotely close to Monicagate. "OK" is about the best anyone can hope for at this stage, but compared to this time last year (with the community at a rolling boil and radio silence from SE leadership), it's also an improvement.

3
  • 3
    What do the two "we" s in the beginning refer to? – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Nov 17 '20 at 4:23
  • 3
    "Things made under prior CC versions will stay under that version unless edited." I know what you mean, but that is not correct as such. Things made under prior CC versions will stay under that version forever. – Trilarion Nov 17 '20 at 10:41
  • 9
    If things were ok codidact wouldn't be opening communities every couple of months, so mostly agree with this post. SE is at better than nothing, but far from OK and won't be for a while if it even gets to it. The premise of the OP aboutSE goal is gone IMHO – Tensibai Nov 18 '20 at 14:18
31
+50

You'll have to forgive, but I had polarizing responses to this.

On the one hand, asking if everything's okay with us and SE leadership puts me in mind to the current pandemic situation and America's optimism to it, suggesting that it will just "go away" in a few seasons. Being optimistic and projecting optimism is okay - sometimes you have to do it. But there's a very well defined line between optimism and delusion, which is the chief reason that I mention it here.

On the other, I suppose then there's a reason to ask about if we're alright. It's a bad breakup and we're not sure if we've got any bad blood or if we're feeling some type of way every time we bump into them.

In context...no, things are not okay. Things haven't been okay all year.

To give you some perspective, here's where we really were before the bomb went off last October:

  • The community was starting to feel like observe that the people in charge weren't listening to them, seemingly bowing to Twitter pressure faster than listening to thoughtful community discourse. And no, this wasn't an isolated occurrence; the aforementioned example is the fastest ever period of proposing a new feature and implementing it network-wide that I've ever seen.
  • There were already some signs of strain with the non-technical communities. I only speak from anecdotal experience, and I could gesticulate over how some sites were able to graduate from the beta site experience far earlier than Writing.SE, but at a minimum, even in my own little pocket on Anime.SE I didn't feel the same warmth, as it were, from the company.
  • There was just a deluge of anti-curator sentiment on social media and elsewhere, and it felt like we were getting just...thrown under the bus for it. I don't know how else to explain it, but it just didn't feel like the stuff the company was saying about how we handled question moderation was particularly fair.
  • First impressions of a new high ranking Stack Exchange employee went over poorly, to put it politely. Honestly I personally don't blame them explicitly for a lot of things that happened, but I can also see why there were a handful of people who did, and continue to. First impressions matter.
  • Area 51 was in a bit of a lurch. Let's be realistic, it was. It didn't feel like it was clear who was doing what over there or if new communities could still come over to Stack Exchange.

So...where are we now?

While I don't want to undercut the other advances that the team has put together...honestly in my mind, I can't see those for the gaping craters left behind over the last year.

So, no. Everything is not okay. In your defense, it hasn't been okay for a good and long while now, but I think the last year brought everything to a head.

Like a messy break-up, some emotions still linger on, but in spite of all of that, the site still has to move forward. It's just a lot tougher to feel good and comfortable with how the site's moving forward, and it's a lot easier and simpler to feel or be disconnected from it.

Like you, I do still enjoy Stack Exchange and I enjoy the network. I still don't think it's supported like it used to be anymore.

8
  • I read your "no longer supported post". I think your main point is what I had feared would happen from reading of the past year's events, but I was not sure if it was actually happening or how if somehow things had been "reconciled" and I just missed that post somewhere in Meta (I think I have my answer on that). – the.Small.axe Nov 17 '20 at 22:53
  • 3
    On a side note, to be honest, even though I've used this site 10+ years, this is my first time asking a question, and I was extremely surprised how easy it was for me to just go and post whatever. Easy as in, I figured there would be something walking me through a few basics of how Stack Overflow works, suggesting extensive searching for my answer first, maybe some things to expect if my question is considered a duplicate or a bad question, etc. I know there was a tutorial that I just skipped by reflex, and a small link on the side for "how to ask a good question". – the.Small.axe Nov 17 '20 at 22:59
  • 1
    I think I've picked up a bit on the culture of SE, but I know there is a lot to know and understand about how SE works, which is not really visible to new users when going to ask a question. Maybe I just missed that though, but maybe it shouldn't be missable. That might help mods out more, and I'm sure this has already been discussed, but just sharing my experience. I actually didn't even want to ask a question, I really wanted to post an answer to an already made post, to share how I felt, but didn't have enough rep. I was expecting this post to be deleted – the.Small.axe Nov 17 '20 at 23:01
  • 7
    I'm not sure why you would've expected this to be closed. It's well-written, concise, and pretty straightforward of a question. It's reasonably suitable to be on Meta Stack Exchange. There's really no secret handshake or hidden rules that exist when posting a question, we just want questions to be clear and understandable. Yours at least crosses that bar so we have a starting point for it to be well received. – Makoto Nov 17 '20 at 23:18
  • 6
    This is a very nice summary of the underlying problems between the community and the company and yes, it shows that many of them haven't been solved really. But life goes on and we have to deal one way (acceptance) or another (move on) with it. At least the situation is clearer now than in 2019. Things have sobered up and we know much better what we got with the company and what we lost compared to the past. Everyone contributing now must be aware of the conditions of the network and leaving is always an option. – Trilarion Nov 18 '20 at 6:39
  • 8
    @Trilarion: I've decided that "moving on" isn't the right expression for this. This implies that both sides have had their chance to get what they've said off their chest and that we're in a space to hit the figurative reset button. What we actually have had is literal years of this kind of pattern. Sure, it's turning around. But it's turning about as fast as an icebreaker in Antarctica in mid-June with about half of its fuel. We've been promised that things would get better, and we can't feel that. Moving on sounds... incorrect. – Makoto Nov 18 '20 at 6:49
  • 11
    @Trilarion: The engine will move on and the site will carry on, but I'm over this attitude of acquiescing. After looking at this I realized just how little the needle has felt like it's moved in a year and it's really a question of looking at progress. I'm hoping that leadership doesn't decide to make more promises since it just doesn't feel like they're showing that they care. The little gestures or updates here and there are good, but again, I see those as token gestures in the wake of some massive craters that don't get explained. – Makoto Nov 18 '20 at 6:59
  • 3
    Definitely it's not that both sides got something of equal size. If anything the company won (for a certain definition of winning) decisively because they have it their way and the network still runs. Yes, they made a couple of heavily downvoted appearances and mods had to work overtime but that's a comparably small price to pay really. With moving on I rather associate leaving for good before one becomes bitter. In the current context it also may be a slower motion. Drifting on maybe. – Trilarion Nov 18 '20 at 7:06
29

That depends entirely on your expectations.

It's not worse than at the peak, where a whole lot of unforced mistakes and grave errors in judgement caused some people significant harm. It's been relatively quiet, and SE has not committed any major blunders recently.

In the end it simply comes down to how much you trust SE, and how much you need to trust them for the kind of participation in the SE network you'd like to have. Trust is quickly destroyed, and far slower to rebuild.

For me personally the trust required to remain a moderator is gone, and I don't see SE regaining that kind of trust in the near future. I still trust SE enough to participate occasionally as a regular user, and the sites are still useful resources. I'm mostly disappointed in SE because I thought there was a chance that they could be much better than they turned out to be. This was maybe just naïveté on my part, or probably just a lack of imagination when considering the ways SE could fail to live up to the promises in the end. But if you compare them to other large sites with community content, there are also far greater evils around.

I think at this point it is simply too early to know if SE turned this around or not. They caused a lot of damage, and it will take a lot of time to repair it, if they're able to.

22

I think it depends on whom you're asking.

I, for example, have been a "regular contributor" for a few years, visiting almost every day, until last year's incident. Now I'm just visiting from time to time, mostly when I hear of "important stuff" or because it comes up while chatting with other (ex-)SE folks. Besides that, SE is mostly "over" for me as a contributor, but also because I've drawn my attention to other websites and projects.

From what I have seen and heard, there are (broadly) these groups of users:

  • those who don't care much for Stack Exchange the company anymore, but still love their communities and are therefore staying on the site

  • those who are still connected to Stack Exchange and its communities, but don't want to actively contribute to it anymore (mostly former Meta-users, still commenting on updates and stuff)

  • those who think that Stack Exchange has started to improve them and give it a second chance (for example, after Teresa Dietrich's post, which Alexander Gruber linked, and some other initiatives)

  • those who have moved on and either left the Q&A-field totally or switched to some of the emerging alternative projects (such as TopAnswers or Codidact, to which I'm affiliated)

  • and of course those who endorse Stack Exchange's actions last year (to be fair, I don't think I saw many people doing so publicly; I rather saw many people endorsing the goal, while not the means, which would likely be in the other categories)

So in summary: Some people left (probably forever), some have drastically reduced their activity hoping for "better times" and some think that Stack Exchange has already improved.

12
  • 5
    This is all so sad. I know so little about the effects of all this, because all this time I had not even noticed this happened. But even setting aside the "incident", the damage caused to the community will have a huge effect on things moving forward. So many people "falling out of love" with SE, its future really seems uncertain, as it maybe becomes more and more like just another corporation. Or those that are really passionate, going to other alternatives. And it would almost seem fair for that to happen, seeing what happened to so many people that really loved this place. – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 19:41
  • 13
    Yes. SE will likely continue to exist for a while, but I also feel that it's "personality" has been lost, although I deeply respect some of the staff, who try to continue it. And, as a person, who was closely following the incident, you can somehow feel lucky that you only found about it now, because it felt extremely stressful, because of all the emotional involvement (looking for updates all the time, finding more background infos, ...) :) – MEE Nov 16 '20 at 19:45
  • 3
    Yea, I can't imagine having to go through that in real time, especially with Monica, waiting for responses, waiting to hear what happens, waiting for something that you would think should be a guarantee, but then it never arrives. That's why, even reading it now, I'm so confused by how things ended. And even Monica's goodbye post, it's hard to understand how things got to that point at all. – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 19:53
  • 11
    You forgot one group: The ones that stuck around but only to make sure the rest of us doesn't get to heal and attempt to move forward. There's a small group of those still around. – Tinkeringbell Nov 16 '20 at 20:08
  • 6
    @Tinkeringbell I have to admit, I don't understand what that means, but maybe it's better if I don't ask. – the.Small.axe Nov 16 '20 at 20:18
  • 2
    TLDR people who are unhappy with the outcome/actions but refuse to "move on" from a community they deeply care about. – user400654 Nov 17 '20 at 16:04
  • 19
    @Tinkeringbell - Substitute 'forget' for 'heal', and I'm proudly in that group. We shouldn't forget the level of juvenile incompetence that SE displayed at that time, and which they never corrected. It's like my child apologizing for making a mess, but never cleaning it up. – Ask About Monica Nov 17 '20 at 18:50
  • 2
    @Ask No, I picked 'heal' very specifically. There's a significant difference between forgetting and healing/moving forward. Just forgetting does nothing for the both. You're welcome to not forget... what's important is how you remember though. Not every way of 'not forgetting' allows for healing and moving forward. – Tinkeringbell Nov 17 '20 at 19:03
  • 18
    @Tinkeringbell I find myself in that group of not forgetting what happened. I'd love to start healing but I don't know what healthiness is going to look like given that - in all bluntness - this is more like a slow and degenerative injury rather than a quick and painful injury. If we want to heal, we must first comprehend what made us healthy in the first place. Only then could we agree that we have healed and that it's okay to move on. – Makoto Nov 17 '20 at 21:58
  • 10
    As far as I'm concerned, healing is something that starts when the knife has been removed and the wound has been patched up by a doctor. We are still in a state where the perpetrator tells us that it is unfortunate that we perceived the necessary stab in the back as pain. Moving on with a knife in the back is painful and while possible, it's far from "healing". – nvoigt Nov 19 '20 at 10:59
  • 8
    @Tinkeringbell There are always a few who like to stir the pot. However, I don't think healing is actually possible unless you remove the disease. Things have improved... but there are still open wounds that can't heal without proper attention. – Kramii Nov 21 '20 at 10:30
  • 1
    When it comes to me, I'm still here mostly for the system's sake. I don't necessarily agree with the actions taken by management last year, neither do I necessarily agree with all the opinions expressed by those on the opposite side. However, I still like the SE system and still stick around helping to maintain it. No opinions or actions taken by those on any side have reduced my deep interest in the SE Q&A engine. I don't think that there's a user group in your five that covers me. – Sonic the Curiouser Hedgehog Dec 3 '20 at 8:44
20
+100

The following statement is something I would have considered a fair description of what this site is about or what we are doing here before 2019:

We are here to help other people with their problems, free of charge, in the language we use to communicate, to the latest standard taught in schools today so everybody out there can access our shared knowledge equally.

This statement has become a bannable offense. And that is not some hyperbole, I have been banned/suspended for it for not quoting it as something in the past but instead actually meaning it as an opinion I hold in the present. I cannot even explain to you why you will get suspended for it, since that, too, is an offense you will get suspended for. Please do not argue about this in the comments, since that, too has been listed as a reason to suspend me, whether I'm actually involved in the comments or not.

As a sign of how determined the leadership is to make sure we follow their rules to the letter (instead of collaborating) they made a big and messy example of one of the people I would consider a positive beacon of how to behave here.

There never has been an apology. There never has been someone to step up and say "sorry, that was me, that was stupid, we will reverse it." The only people we have seen are "communication experts" that will tells us how they are so sorry that we perceived it that way. That "mistakes were made", as if that is some force of nature that just happens and nobody's fault. When "mistakes were made" they were not corrected. The obvious and technically simple corrections were deflected to some newly found procedures, so the victim was allowed to come to the perpetrator begging to have the act undone. That is a big bowl of sleaziness that I absolutely expect from all those people that consider themselves "managing" or "directing" or "marketing" something. Preferably "Communications". But we hold the company to higher standards than our local used car dealer. And they have failed those standards by a light year.

We are a tech community. We don't need messaging professionals. We need professional messages. And despite all the glitter that those messaging professionals are adding, it is pretty clear that the days of professional messages by tech professionals are long gone.

A new leadership has taken over and they only know one thing: dictate their way. This site is not about collaboration any more. We are not partners in a community; we are their livestock. Their numbers on their reports. It's about making money. Which everybody would be fine with, if it were a side effect. I don't mind that a corporation is making money off of my free contributions. Something has to pay the costs of the platform and people working to make the platform work. But it has become the main show, and the fact that we can still write questions and answers here has become a side effect that is really just something the leadership "tolerates". I mean sure, when they go into interviews, they always put community first, but that is just empty words from a corporate shell person that could have been replaced by a script. Or maybe it already is a script. It's like McDonald's telling you how they really, really value the quality of their beef. Like hell they do. They value the dollar they get when someone buys it.

So no. Nothing is fine. There is a layer of silence here, people carrying on without saying something. Not because they are happy, but because they are afraid. They have seen what will happen if you speak out.

So the answer is no.

This site is no longer the first choice because it's a great choice. This site is still the first choice because there is no alternative.

9
  • 4
    I agree with the analysis, but let's face it, that only puts SO Inc. into the company of all other corporations in the world. For Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and all others, making money is the main goal. It's never only a side effect. And they are all very successful (commercially). The first years of SO may just have been an exception of the rule in that regard. If one doesn't feel comfortable with it, the only possibility is to actively support an alternative. Competition might actually also the only way to change SO for good. It's this or accepting the reality here, I'd say. – Trilarion Nov 18 '20 at 8:59
  • 23
    I happily use Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. I do not consider myself a member of the "Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon" community though. They are not communities. Likewise, I have never been banned from "Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon" either. You are right, SE tries very hard to shed that community aspect and become another money making machine. And I don't like that. I liked it a lot better when it was a tech site for techies run by techies. – nvoigt Nov 18 '20 at 10:17
  • 5
    Me too, but the past is gone and will not come back. The future is investors wanting revenues. I also don't like to constantly complain about things that are unlikely to change. If there is a single good thing coming out of 2019 here it's more realism. The company isn't the company that is was anymore. Part of the community that is gone is gone and the future is a top down directed mentoring site. On the basis of this every involved party can judge much better how to best invest its time and energy. And maybe tech sites for techies run by techies will happen again in the future, who knows. – Trilarion Nov 18 '20 at 10:41
  • 11
    Wow, you have put it in a harsh but very clear way, This site is no longer the first choice because it's a great choice. This site is still the first choice because there is *no alternative*. is something I felt but I somehow hadn't been able to put in words. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Nov 18 '20 at 11:34
  • 8
    I liked it a lot better when it was a tech site for techies run by techies This has always been my impression of SE/SO, as simply a user of the site. That's why I was so shocked reading through these events, I couldn't understand how a "tech site run by techies" would be capable of this. But I'm realizing, as others have said, that I just missed the switch to what SE is now. I guess SE has gone the route of many others before it (Apple, Google, etc), except there is almost a greater evil in the fact that this corporation still has to "use" its "community" for its success – the.Small.axe Nov 18 '20 at 15:13
  • 1
    What do you mean by "the days of professional messages by tech professionals are long gone"? Can you elaborate a little bit? E.g., it is set up as the opposite of "messaging professionals". What do you mean by that? – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Nov 18 '20 at 17:35
  • 7
    Well, "messaging professionals" are people who's job it is to take a shitty message and make it smell like roses. If the job description starts or ends with "marketing" or "communications" that's what I mean. A professional message on the other hand would have been rough and direct, but truthful. A professional message would have been "I'm really sorry I messed that up. We will immediately reinstate her. Again, sorry." That would not have been as shiny or polished or lawyeresque, but it would have been the plain truth and we would have accepted it. Because... – nvoigt Nov 18 '20 at 18:16
  • 15
    ... everyone makes mistakes. But when you hire people to cover them up, call them "perceived mistakes" and apologize for having given you this "perception", instead of apologizing for actually making the mistake, that is the point where an honest mistake that we all make and all can forgive and forget turns into an intentional insult. – nvoigt Nov 18 '20 at 18:18
  • 2
    Honestly, the only part of this I disagree with is your assertion that things used to be good. See for example this. The reality is, things have always been bad. It's just gotten a lot more obvious in recent years. – Kevin Nov 22 '20 at 20:19
12

I have also been using SE network for about 10 years at this point, and from my point of view, it feels like we all believed that something very very good can appear and exist for a very long time, but as years went on, things changed and we all experienced and grew up along with it.

You know how sometimes exceptionally good people start something, and then they hand it over to other people, and you don't know if the new people are also exceptionally good at it until later. I prefer to think of it in an understanding way, that very few people are actually really great at their job, and that the best products are made by companies whose leadership (not just the employees) actively use the product. At the start it was the case - the creators were the leaders, but then the company was handed over to those who I don't think know much about this platform at all, and it is still my impression about them to this day.

Many people that got very hurt and disappointed in the last 2 years especially, have left for good. Some of those who stayed, limited their participation by a lot or somewhat. But for the most part, I personally don't think that 90% of the userbase has even heard of what happened or cares. The 10% who did though, are arguably the janitorial backbone of this community, as the most active users whose participation should not be underappreciated.

On one hand, I cannot really blame the new leadership for not being "superb" at managing this type of site, because really, you go and find a great fit for one of the most complicated online communities in the world, seriously good luck finding suitable people to handle it. But on the other hand, it could have been way way waaay worse. It could not be a Q&A site at all on this URL address.

So is it great now? Not really. Is it bad? Nah. Okay is probably about right. But are you satisfied with okay?

4
  • 4
    I had commented a little on another answer, but this is one of the saddest parts for me. Going through all the posts about what happened, it was like watching SE disentegrate before your eyes. Not because of what happened to the 90%, but the 10% that really set the culture of SE, and inspire others to be passionate about these communities. I don't know why I expected different, but I didn't really expect (or wasn't aware of) SE becoming like so many other companies. It had just seemed different. But I was also unaware of the gradual slide towards this explosion – the.Small.axe Nov 17 '20 at 16:41
  • 7
    (I tried to leave a comment in like 5 parts but let's say a dog ate them >.<) Basically, this site was started by the 10% of the people from a previous such site. We are now that 10%. We can do it again. I know it because it's real history. Take pride in having this experience and go on forth without repeating the same old mistakes. You and me may not be the next Shogs, but we can be the next top 500 users whose name you might not remember right away but who definitely were a big part of SE's success. Maybe not in the form of the same Q&A site, but something that the world could use now :) – user1306322 Nov 17 '20 at 17:52
  • 4
    I don't think people just not being "exceptionally good at it" or "superb" can explain such a mess happening. Instead, "the level of juvenile incompetence that SE displayed at that time, ... which they never corrected" is a better description of the behavior we witnessed. – Stop harming Monica Nov 17 '20 at 20:31
  • 3
    @StopharmingMonica thing is, whatever is going on here, I feel like it is not within our powers to improve the situation faster than if we were to spend our time and efforts on a new project with a clear vision. There is some, limited, merit in figuring out who is to blame, and, having done that, now I would rather focus on the positive, and how to learn and move forward. – user1306322 Nov 18 '20 at 1:52
9

It's a really difficult question to answer. While everyone remembers the firings, moderator removals, and social media - the damage to the community as a whole has happened over years - even the first round of layoffs was triggered by something that still has ripples years on, with almost no one involved still around.

There's no simple, short-term fix for everything.

I would say that it's a period of transition with the potential for things to go either way.

Admittedly, I'm in a funny place - while I don't have the whole story, I've picked up lots of snippets of what's happening from a lot of places over time. The simple fact is we've had folks make mistakes, and have had to carry the weight of those mistakes (and possibly those of others over an extended period of time).

Things breaking can happen quickly or compound over a period of time - but rectifying those issues takes...a while.

It's difficult to put one's finger on what's changed when things have changed a lot over time, but I'd say part of it is that at some point SE lost contact with the ground, and made decisions based on either bad data, or folks who didn't quite get the culture of the network.

I'd say that trust broken over time is going to take time to fix.

Stack Exchange of old was agile (as a small organisation with a BDFL) in fixing things. Modern Stack Exchange is not. There's a perception of internal turf wars (not just from outside - Glassdoor reflects that), not helped by the fact that we literally lost folks from a tiny community team to bolster up resources for another (larger) team.

While many of those things are in the pipeline (and I'm still looking forward to the culmination of the hiring process for the new CMs we badly need) - we're still dealing with community-debt. The things that ought to have been done before - but were put on the back burner.

Admittedly, we have a backlog of things that need to be fixed, which there's good work being done on, but least to me, a lot of issues we've had would have been much less worse if they had been settled quickly.

Grand gestures are nice - I'm sure that one or two things would probably help a lot, but this isn't a sprint. It's a cross country race, up hill, both ways, in the snow, through self-dug Punji pits, the searing heat, and snakes (why does it have to be snakes!).

It's the early days for the new management - and how far they deign to understand the ground and the wider community, hire, build up and listen to experts, and work towards reearning trust, not today, or this year, but on an ongoing, long term fashion is going to determine if everything is ok.

I can't say I'm overjoyed with the state of things. It's not ok. But there's at least a chance we can make this work.

4
  • 2
    I really like your tone of sober optimism, I think it has a lot of merit here. – zcoop98 Nov 19 '20 at 0:08
  • 8
    My impression from the last CEO community communication and the last roadmap is that not many changes are planned for the immediate future. You describe that larger organizations are naturally slower but it looks like this might be too slow. I'll take a more pessimistic view and while immediate death has been successfully avoided last year, a slow decline is still very much a realistic prospect, I'd say. To use marketing speak: Is SO agile enough and lifting the benefits of its community enough to survive in the 2020s? I'm not sure. – Trilarion Nov 19 '20 at 6:44
  • 1
    I wouldn't say SE is "just" a larger organisation - but its certainly less agile. As much as external healing is needed - internal healing and cultural readjustment might be a part of, well, things being ok on the long run. It never does end with a bang, but rather a long, drawn out whimper, does it? :/ – Journeyman Geek Nov 19 '20 at 6:55
  • 12
    The problem isn't that it's early days for the new management. The problem is that the values of the new management don't align with the values of the community's veterans. Stack Overflow (and by extension the SE network) was built "for professionals and enthusiast amateurs". Now it's "an open community for anyone that codes" (emphasis mine). – S.L. Barth - Reinstate Monica Nov 19 '20 at 13:36
7

There are many different levels of being OK - it's not a binary thing - but the one thing that is clear is that things are back to some sort of (new) normal now. People have learned, adapted and/or moved on, the company also has changed course a bit (is my impression) regarding the way it communicates with the community. The magnitude of emotions involved has been greatly reduced (several orders) I would say, which is good because such intense emotion over a long period is probably very stressful and unproductive. With a more unemotional and realistic view, there are hardly discussions about the subjects anymore and if there are, the interest is comparatively lower (although even there you see a bit of a ghost of 2019 with 40%(!) deleted answers).

The intense "hot" period was October 2019 to January 2020, but the general feeling is that tensions started growing long before that. An as analogy I would speculate that it also takes some time for the tension to really subside completely. Predictions about the future are difficult and one should never say never, but I don't think something similar will happen again anytime soon. People have gained clarity about the role of the community as well as insight into the situation of minorities, the company has learned to communicate more regularly and the mods here have become adept fire-fighters.

See also:

In short, most people just moved on or accepted the changes, because that is a very reasonable thing to do. There are so many things happening in the world. Sure, it was sad and took a toll but if you compare it to other things, people probably adjusted their evaluation of the importance of the issues. One could do some SEDE queries to determine if activity on the network has changed significantly. From what I saw activity on Stack Overflow didn't change much but things might have eluded me or change slower than thought.

6
  • 5
    "From what I saw activity didn't change much..." - some communities were hit harder than others. Writing.SE, for instance, saw an extremely drastic drop in activity at the time that it still hasn't recovered from. – Mithical Nov 17 '20 at 18:43
  • 2
    @Mithical You are right. I mostly only monitored activity on Stackoverflow. It would be interesting to look at the smaller communities in more detail. This is also an unresolved issue from the graduations, that a reliable indicator of well-being or sustainability of small network sites is missing. – Trilarion Nov 17 '20 at 19:07
  • 1
    @Mithical was Monica a big part of Writing.SE? Or is there another reason for Writing.SE being hit so hard? I noticed she mentioned she was a writer, and one of the reasons for her attempted clarification on the CoC. – the.Small.axe Nov 17 '20 at 19:49
  • 7
    @the.Small.axe Monica was a major contributor and mod on Writing, WorldBuilding, and MiYodeya (not to mention this site). These are all much smaller sites then the technical sites (certainly then SO) which means smaller communities so effects on them were harder. Imagine 20 active contributors leave on SO - nobody would notice. But on WB? Yeah, it was/is noticeable. Beyond M, smaller sites also have less moderators. So when 1 or 2 left many had none or just one trying to cover all the moderation duties by themselves which caused further damage (which recent elections have not recovered from) – LinkBerest Nov 18 '20 at 3:25
  • 6
    @LinkBerest Monica also was a moderator on Workplace. Per my recollection, the impact of her dismissal was that all three other active moderators also resigned – gnat Nov 18 '20 at 10:25
  • 1
    @LinkBerest Don't forget "The Workplace" – nvoigt Nov 18 '20 at 10:26

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .