36

As you probably know, we're in the midst of planning for 2022, org-wide. One of the challenges that we've long had on the Community Team is that while it's (relatively) easy to get wish lists for technical tools from community members.... we are not engineers. Every quarter in the mod survey, we ask mods what non-technical help they need from us, but I'd like to widen the net a little here (in keeping with the spirit of my earlier questions, when I joined).

What NON-TECHNICAL initiatives would you like to see the Community Team focus on at some point in the near future? (I'm making no promises, of course, but this is useful data for us). This could be a process or a policy that you think is broken, or needs to be re-aligned; it could be something we could do to help out your site - the world is your oyster here (unless, of course, oysters make you sick.... like they do me. In that case, the world is your, I dunno, chocolate bar.)

We're technically closed this week, but I am constitutionally incapable of staying offline this long (sssssssh, please, nobody tell my team - Rosie keeps telling me that I need to be better at modeling time away for my team - and particularly don't tell my boss) so I will be checking in on this question to see where the discussion leads us.

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  • 4
    Should we interpret "non-technical" as "not requiring more engineering work than changing some numbers"?
    – Ryan M
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:22
  • 4
    I wonder if a downvote will be a good signal for not staying offline while being closed ....
    – rene
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:24
  • 1
    TBH, I suspect its a great use of time. Let it sit over the weekend, and the start of the new year when folks are free, let it pickle a bit, and see what turns up once the aftereffects of the new year have worn off
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:25
  • 7
    @RyanM - I would say "not requiring any significant coding / can be done without support from the Public Platform Eng team".
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:25
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    @rene - I have about six snarky comments loaded and ready to go but something tells me that Catija would get cranky with me and Rosie would give me THE LOOK, so I'll not say them and invite you to use your downvote as you feel best. :: grin :: (Thanks for the good humor).
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:27
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    Incapable of staying off SE this long? I think you've spent too much time with Catija :-) Thanks for this New Year present! It's been a long time since the last community-vp-questions. Dec 31, 2021 at 11:27
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    @Randal'Thor but, of course... I've managed to stay away more than Philippe. 😉
    – Catija StaffMod
    Dec 31, 2021 at 23:33
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    @Catija said you on the evening of Dec, 31st [and for some of us - Jan,1st already] :) Dec 31, 2021 at 23:42
  • wait.. what? Mods have monthly surveys? Jan 19 at 18:40
  • 2
    @RandomPerson: It's been quarterly for the past year, actually, but yes. (I don't know if it was ever monthly...)
    – V2Blast StaffMod
    Jan 19 at 19:33
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    Tho, tbh, that's not the only time we voice our opinions :D
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jan 19 at 22:59
  • 3
    d'oh! Quarterly. Fixed.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Jan 20 at 1:49

4 Answers 4

36

I bet you do this already, but it might benefit from more focus:

Stack Exchange is more than just Stack Overflow

Sure, it's bigger (according to some (all?) metrics) than the rest of the network combined, and it does pay for hosting/supporting the other communities. But when something is changed clearly with just Stack Overflow in mind, it frustrates many users big time. (Not necessarily me, I'm in the software development business myself and pretend that I know how/why things change. I'm just slightly annoyed at times).

The members of the Community Team are certainly aware of this (when I look at the flairs here, most of them aren't even active on Stack Overflow), but it would be nice if that mindset is transferred (more) to the rest of the company.

A good example to follow is the way Unpinning the accepted answer from the top of the list of answers was handled. Two years ago, it might've been rolled out to the entire network immediately after the pilot. After all, it works on Stack Overflow, so it should be good for the entire network, right? You chose to ask feedback from the communities, perhaps expecting only a handful of them to opt out (the usual suspects like Puzzling and Code Golf). In the end, opt-in turned out to be a better option. Kudos for how that was handled!

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    I'll pass your kudos along to the team that worked on it - I had little direct involvement, but I know that it was carefully planned, and I agree - it represented what I would like to see become best practice. As to your larger question, I agree. I think there is a feeling that a "rising tide helps all ships" and that attention spent on features for SO will help the rest of the sites. I believe, candidly, that this is not always true. In my perfect world, we would develop more things as we did in your example - and then hide them behind site settings and feature flags.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:43
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    I suspect its more of an 'issue' when you're involved in one or half a dozen smaller sites, and not SO :D
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:45
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What NON-TECHNICAL initiatives

Personally I would like to see some CM team/mod make a call to organize the guidance on suggested edit criteria. Over the years there's been a wide range of meta posts written about copy-editing and there's hundreds (no, thousands) of such posts that state conflicting criteria. E.g. "Don't remove salutations" vs "Remove salutations" vs "Don't remove salutations if the post is old" vs "don't edit old posts at all", etc...

I think this kind of conflicting info makes suggested edit criteria very confusing and frustrating, especially for new users who are trying to integrate into the community going the editing route.

I have thousands of edits (upward of 5000) but still when I try to integrate into other sites there are reviewers who will reject all edits for whatever reason. When they're asked about it they say stuff that's broadly like:"It's not worth editing".

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    This is a fantastic thought, and exactly the sort of thing that I hoped to get from this question.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:37
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    I thought there was an uncontroversial consensus that salutations should be removed. However, you could add to that: Are minor suggested edits that don’t fix everything fine or not fine? Dec 31, 2021 at 9:43
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    @SebastianSimon under the "minor" argument I've seen thousands of suggested edits rejected that did in fact "fix everything". That's the kind of problem I'm talking about.
    – bad_coder
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:49
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    @Philippe happy new year!! I think SE did an incredible job in 2019-2020 overhauling technical aspects like the review queues, accepted answer check mark, CommonMark, Dark theme, etc... I also think the CM team is in a good place and you're a great leader and mediator. The general feeling among the cohorts is expectation of more good things to come.
    – bad_coder
    Dec 31, 2021 at 10:11
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    The last couple of years have seen hints and mutters from SE that the current policy on things like "thanks in advance" in questions (i.e. "they shouldn't be there and can be edited out on sight") may be undergoing some rethinking in light of things like the Welcome Wagon initiative. A clear policy on this, one way or the other, would be great. I personally would strongly support SE if they switch to being fine with questions including "thanks in advance", but I think most moderators/curators wouldn't, and I'm sure it would be a very controversial announcement if they do do that. @Philippe Dec 31, 2021 at 15:46
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    While I'd definitely like to see the guidance organized (and perhaps put onto the edit suggestion page so new editors can actually see it), I'd also like to stress that each community should be allowed to have their own edit suggestion policy instead of having a network-wide policy slapped on them.
    – nobody
    Dec 31, 2021 at 20:31
  • @nobody that's true, e.g. the "bump" issue depends on how many Q&As a site gets daily, some communities may rely completely on the active tab of the front page while in other communities no one uses it (browsing is mostly per tag/newest). But there's a lot of room for improvement regarding editing policies and I think editing can play an important role in helping new members integrate while contributing to overall content quality. (This is would mostly be a community collaboration with mods/cms towards organizing old consensus and practices.)
    – bad_coder
    Dec 31, 2021 at 20:40
24

Somewhat related to Glorfindel's remark that many SE sites need a slightly different treatment from the SO model...

Consider adapting curation/moderation privilege reputation thresholds to the median number of rep received on the specific site in the past few years.

Why would this be useful? Yes, privileges vary between sites that are "full-grown" versus beta, but even sites out of beta have fluctuating rep levels. The ease of gaining rep differs more over time and sites than you think.

Exhibit A: CS.SE

Now that we have the yearly review, here's the table of most mod activity in the last year, and some comments from me

Total Rep* Users
100,000+ 2
50,000+ 4
25,000+ 9
10,000+ 34
5,000+ 58
3,000+ 103
2,000+ 145
1,000+ 314
500+ 763
200+ 3,061
1+ 119,841

Note that as of writing, 103 users have at least 3k rep, the threshold for close voting. This is on a site with >4k users of 200+ rep, ~120k users total, and with 11 questions per day. So, 0.085% of users can close-vote, with those users on average having to vote 53.40 times per day to close all incoming questions. Of course, users with a privilege are not very helpful if they are inactive. Of the 103 users eligible to cast a close-vote, 5 have used the close vote queue in the last 30 days, and had 70 questions closed. Many of those are closed by a moderator, I must add, because getting 5 close voters is hard. (Yes, I know there is an experiment to reduce it to 3. I have asked about it multiple times over the last few years, but I have never had anyone give me a timeline of when it may be possible to change on our sites. However, I think having more close voters is better than decreasing the number of voters required. Maybe we should do both.)

Of the users capable to close vote that often do so outside the queue, I can recall about ~20, roughly. So, about quarter of those with the privilege actually uses them.

One may remark that having a poor voting culture with a median 2 votes per answer (or at least, that's how it looks for me. It took me ~2 years to go 0 to 2k reputation) is our own fault, and that we should fix that. (this means about 120 answers before one gets the privilege of close-voting. Not many users are that active, and most do not answer that much within a year or so. More likely would be 2-3 years. I recall that when I became a moderator, I was slightly worried about removing a non-mod vote from the tiny pool of close-voters)

Well, I try to remind people of it, but it doesn't seem to work. Maybe our users genuinely have high standards, and CS is genuinely such a broad field that many users do not feel capable of judging answers outside undergrad questions and their own sub field (and the useful new undergrad questions have mostly been exhausted at this point... Unlike programming, CS undergrad is rather homogeneous and stable. Much more stable than the fields of research in CS)

Exhibit B: Quantum Computing.SE

Total Rep* Users
25,000+ 1
10,000+ 10
5,000+ 12
3,000+ 31
2,000+ 44
1,000+ 86
500+ 186
200+ 495
1+ 15,008

Note that this site still has beta privilege levels, with closing at a mere 500. So what do we have here? Over 800 users may close-vote, out of a total of ~16k users, with 5 questions per day. So, 5% of the users can close-vote, with an average number of 3.13 votes per person per day required to close all incoming questions. As for the voting behaviour, the median number of votes on my questions is 11, with 4 on my answers. I was able to go from 0 to 2k in about 3 months. Note that a big difference here is that I came to this site at the start, when people still appreciate naive non-expert questions, as they haven't been asked on the site yet. I wouldn't be able to do the same thing today, I think. Additionally, this site is in a very novel field and attracts simple questions from all sort of discipline. The low-hanging fruit has not been exhausted yet.

Exhibit C: OR.SE

Total Rep* Users
10,000+ 4
5,000+ 10
3,000+ 17
2,000+ 41
1,000+ 87
500+ 139
200+ 319
1+ 5,719

Again, a beta site with close vote privileges at 500 rep. 298 users meet this reputation threshold, out of ~6.3K users, with a total of 1.7 questions per day. So, 4.73% users can close-vote, and those users have to cast an average of 2.85 votes per day to close all incoming questions. 6 median votes on my questions, and from 0 to 1k rep in about 2 months. Again, I joined this site early, and it is still young. However, I'm impressed with the quality on this site, and experience within the community. It has helped that they where mostly from an older now-defunct OR Q&A community, and managed to get a site on SE due to a Twitter campaign by one of the current moderators.

Summary

Site Close-voting reputation threshold Number of eligible close-voters Daily questions Percentage of illegible close-voters Daily average effort per person to close all questions Estimated real daily average effort per person*
Computer Science 3000 103 11 0.085% 53.4 10.7 - 32.0
Quantum Computing 500 800 5 5.00% 3.13 0.63 - 1.88
Operations Research 500 298 1.7 4.73% 2.85 0.58 - 1.71

*Estimated real effort assume between 20% and 60% of all daily questions should be closed (at least temporarily). This list is incomplete, you may expand it.

So, what can we learn? Well, first note that the 3 sites here have a similar topic, and that I've been active on all of them for some time. We can also see that while Quantum computing and OR are similar in size and statistics, and that CS.SE is vastly understaffed on the close voting front. (even by my most optimistic estimates, the effort required on CS.SE is about 10 times that of OR.SE) In practice, we deal with this by ignoring the close vote queue, or cleaning it up with moderator privileges. This is not ideal, as a community should do the close voting themselves, and the community has more trouble reopening questions that it did not close by itself.

What should be done, then. Well, as I asked, please consider whether the reputation thresholds on CS.SE ought to be changed in this situation. Try to do the same thing for every site where the statistics look bad. Feel free to edit this post to add the perspective of more sites, especially those where you think close-voting is less than ideal.

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    I would emphasize that these thresholds were based on a very specific timeline of how a site progress from private beta to a graduated site. And now that we're just "graduating" all sites based on not really any criteria, we're going to be breaking all of the standards that previously relied on those criteria being met first. I don't think the existing system of private beta, public beta, and graduated thresholds makes sense anymore. Instead, we should develop a set of 4-5 reputation "templates" that a site can choose from, and move up when they see fit via meta discussion, not based on beta.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jan 1 at 1:56
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    @animuson Yes, I agree that the process to determine the thresholds should be revisited. My main point, though, is to also apply the revision to big sites, in case it would improve their situation. Jan 1 at 8:00
  • I don't think median is the right word here, because that has a very specific math meaning. (I completely agree with the meaning of the post though). Jan 4 at 17:13
  • Well, I mean roughly the middle, which seem a decent estimate. Perhaps the average is more relevant, but that doesn't differ much except for a few outliers. Jan 4 at 19:40
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    Regarding the 3 votes to close, I believe that if you raise a CM escalation, they can give you more info about how to hop on that train. I think V2Blast may be able to help out here, as well.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Jan 20 at 1:53
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    @animuson: it's not quite correct to say that we're graduating all sites based on not really any criteria. Rosie wrote about the criteria that were used recently at Congratulations to the 59 sites that just left Beta. The requirements to exit beta haven't actually changed that much. We dropped one (actually, it was dropped a while back) and modified another, but otherwise, basically the same.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Jan 20 at 2:00
  • @Philippe I've been asking for this for so long already... at this point I'm more interested if we can solve this problem on our own, as I mentioned, the numbers are currently improving. Jan 20 at 9:31
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    @Discretelizard - I think we located your inquiry. For some reason it was stuck in a limbo-like state for assignment. V2Blast has kicked the server, I believe, and it's shaping up and acting the way we like to see now. Someone's going to follow-up with you (i'm a little unclear who or when, but what do I know, i'm just the guy in charge, who prays that he didn't misunderstand things every time he posts a promise like that).
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Jan 20 at 14:17
16

While to an extent the community team is the earpiece of the company to the community a key task broadly would be still to rebuild the links between the community and the organisation that were broken.

(As an aside - I hope/suspect a good many of these things are already on the pipeline - so with that awkwardness out of the way, on with the post.)

Most practically?

In the past year, or maybe two, the community team went from the functional equivalent of being
"in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.", or perhaps in the equivalent of a Dank Basement or Little Room under the Stairs. Now there's an actual team I guess there's two things worth considering. We've a bunch of folks 'generally' familiar with community management in a professional, non SE sense. We also have a small core of CMs hired from the community, and at least one person who's both familiar with SE (as a moderator) and community management elsewhere.

On that vein - and aside from best practices from 'outside' the network - it feels like a crucial thing is to get to know, and well, be embedded with the broader communities. While I realise resources are limited - It's something that's been neglected over the past few years, and with the loss of a lot of institutional knowledge, kind of essential for understanding the culture, issues and 'rules' of communities first hand.

Fundamentally - as much as training folks to be Community Managers, its useful for folks outside special events, to train themselves to be community and pick up skills, contacts and the presence needed for effective communications across the network

Slightly less practically?

Historically a lot of early regulars drifted away. Some of it was natural attrition. Some of it was interpersonal conflict. I'd say one of the more difficult things that needs to be done is balancing giving sites the attention they need with respecting their autonomy. It's not always gone perfectly, but I'd love to see folks from say Server Fault (which was my second site) return. It's probably a 'hard' if not impossible thing, but in addition to growth (new users), retention of current users, it would be nice to investigate (gently!) getting legacy users back.

I'd also say a slow and steady continuation of building up and maintaining a CM team. We're early days yet - and I don't know what sort of staffing levels y'all can get away with, but I'd love to see the team at worst stay at current levels, and at best keep growing slowly.

"I want a pony?"

A little selfish, but a little more geographic diversity in CM hires. Quite a few users and folks in the community are on the other side of the world ;)

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    I think for staff to be embedded, i.e., actually using the sites, is a very important point, not only for community managers but also for developers. SE organizes the Community-a-thons for their employees but it feels like this initiative does not reach its full potential. When a new feature or UI is released there are always dozens of bugs reported within a day or so, many of which so visible that SE staff would be expected to notice them if they actually tried to use the new feature for a few days.
    – Marijn
    Dec 31, 2021 at 18:01
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    +1 for bringing the legacy users back. A lot of expertise seems to have been lost from SE sites since the legacy users left, and I'd love to see them return if possible.
    – nobody
    Dec 31, 2021 at 20:24
  • 1
    "...a lot of early regulars drifted away. ... Some of it was..." In addition to the factors you mentioned, there's the fact that sysadmins and other techies aren't the same as developers. Some things that make sense for SO don't work for ServerFault. A big factor in the original SF regulars leaving was that they had ideas for how to make it a better place for sysadmins but it seemed like SE staff not only weren't interested in the ideas, but weren't interested in interacting with the regulars. Jan 1 at 19:30
  • Well, that's the community I'm most familiar with, but there's probably a few others people drifted off of to various extents.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jan 2 at 7:10
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    @nobody I am afraid, SE has burned the bridges and salted the earth.
    – user1110136
    Jan 2 at 13:25
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    There's actually a surprising (to me) amount of geographic diversity in the CM team... But I wouldn't be opposed to even more :) (...Also, excellent Hitchhiker's Guide reference!)
    – V2Blast StaffMod
    Jan 3 at 17:11
  • Well, The team is mostly US and UK - Ayo was the exception (as was Tim early on), but from what I understand, SE's kinda only hiring from specific locations these days - and I know aside from me, there was one other person who was interested in the future who wouldn't be considered cause they were in the 'wrong' place. So I'm skeptical of geographic diversity being that great ._.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jan 3 at 17:38
  • Also - I realise there's practical considerations that make hiring outside those regions difficult. its just plain annoying with respect to my personal history, and goals both personal, and of folks I know are interested and would be great potential additions to the team.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jan 3 at 18:19
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    @JourneymanGeek - Yes, I suppose it is "mostly" US and UK, but I count at least 3 (by my very late night counting) other countries represented - so 5 countries in a team of 13? I think that's pretty good, actually. While I agree, I would love to open up hiring to more of the world, it's less of a US/UK based team than it used to be.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Jan 4 at 8:51

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