311

I guess this is very much an intervention.

There's a few policies in the pipeline - here's one, and there's another one that's not been officially announced that a good many moderators are opposed to. I'll update when (or if) it goes through, but it's not great.

Tied in with the new 'push' to AI (getting 10% of staff on that) and the loss of community team members including one who was a pillar of the community he founded (which on the whole resulted in a 10% reduction in staff), makes me feel that the company doesn't really have a long term plan and that there's a loss of trust in the company's ability to understand the needs of the community and that we've a real voice in these decisions.

Change is often give and take - we've contributed thousands of hours to moderation and working with our communities, and to an extent, it feels like we're underappreciated.

We've got features we don't really need being prioritized and features that we've asked for left deep in the backlog. We've asked for more community hires to give the company better insight into what the community needs - but practically we still have the same policies that exclude anyone who is still interested. We've asked for better accessibility to chat and meta, and work on chat as well as notifications and it's not really anywhere in our future.

We got new voting buttons instead.

I've brought up many of these concerns in the past - and made no real headway. Listening to fellow mods, I feel like the current course of action will lead to irreparable damage to the community. We've made headway over the past few years, but I feel like that a lot of that progress could be lost.

After so many rounds of being let down, SE feels like the dad in this ad, with quite a few smashed piggy banks and broken promises littering the floor.

Many of these policies seem aimed at appeasing the 'worst' part of our communities, rather than supporting the folks doing the curation and other tasks of actually running the community. Yet we're having things like 'we're suddenly overruling the communities on ChatGPT posts' without any real support happening with no real warning.

We've also had multiple rounds of 'we need to downsize to keep the company healthy' which generally has ended up in the community losing the voices we had in the company, and leading to a much more difficult time in it.

In the time since we first posted this post - the data dumps, which essentially are our insurance policy should the company go evil, were no longer updated, though this might no longer be the case. There was no consultation or even prior announcements of this. It doesn't even stop use of SE data in genAI tools since most of the big companies can just scrape the information... Which feels like an unnecessary bridge is currently on fire. Since then, due to a lot of pressure this move was reversed, but the damage to trust has been done.

Stack's always been 'We need to do this now' and not 'how do we build competencies and trust for the future'. It's been short-sighted - admittedly in the same way that most tech companies seem to be, focusing on the next quarter rather than the long term.

I've... been working on problems that started a decade ago, chipping away at them before suddenly having a giant pile of new problems dumped on it. I'm royally frustrated because eventually there's going to be a point where the things that keep moderators going are simply outweighed by the problems caused by policies that really don't reflect the realities of the sites as they are.

I guess if you got this far, you're actually interested.

  • Are there actually long term, 'we're sticking to this' plans to get to profitability and community growth? I mean if y'all are firing people, like Meta (who made a bad bet on VR), Twitter (which was bought by someone who made a bad bet on Twitter)... It means something is 'wrong'. We're invariably told everything is fine, and then things go wrong. This isn't the first time, and it's a case of 'say hi to the new management, same as the old management'?

  • Are there longer term plans to make working for SE more attractive to community members - and to make a greater effort towards hiring in the community? Seeing multiple rounds of downsizing clearly doesn't help.

  • Is there an actual plan for community growth as far as getting people to stick around? Sometimes it feels like it's a marketing term rather than an actual desire to do better. The community is people, not AI.

  • I feel like there's a major disconnect, and a lack of understanding of the mechanics and culture of the communities. Are there any long term plans to improve this? We shouldn't see changes in core mechanics and community policies without consultation, and many of these seem to cater towards the 'outside' and the 'complainers' rather than the people who're active.

  • Is there any plan for popular community requested features to get on the roadmap any time soon?

  • we need a way to ensure community interests are protected

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  • 59
    Well, this should have been said by someone, at some point. Kudos for being the one who say it, and in an excellent way. Commented May 30, 2023 at 13:20
  • 29
    I'd note that moderators and curators are considering a strike in response to some of these issues.
    – Mithical
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 13:40
  • 13
    @Mithical It's not even the kind of strike that needs to be organised. It'll just happen by default.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 13:41
  • 8
    @wizzwizz4 - Sure, but having concrete demands and some organization helps the possibility of some of those demands being somewhat met. It had a measure of success last time.
    – Mithical
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 13:42
  • 16
    I had bad feeling ever since that "Community is future of AI" blog post. I am still hanging around... but I have significantly cut my activities. I am just tired of everything... Commented May 30, 2023 at 14:47
  • 24
    Congrats, everybody. SE completely ignored every single response to Community is the future of AI. Today is our Birthday, and it sucks. Commented May 30, 2023 at 15:00
  • 8
    Folks, I get the irony, but voting to close it for lacking focus... seriously? All of the questions outlined by JG in the post form a single complex issue that many of us would like SE to address. Commented May 30, 2023 at 15:54
  • 11
    It seems to me that the emperor's new clothes is that current structure only wants the numbers, there's no interest in content quality as an essencial feature (can't speak for management, but the path is very clear now, action after action, in a constant way). That seems to me a decision, not a mistake. And I mean it, I'm not writing with any significant emotion attached. Perhaps one or other cares about, but in the end, we are skating uphill.
    – Largato
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 16:00
  • 23
    You must be new around here. I kid, I kid, but we've had so many iterations of Stack Overflow Inc not caring all that much about the backbone that makes it successful to begin with, they're turning into anime story arcs at this point. Maybe if I'm so inclined later this evening, after work, I'll write up a more coherent response than this passing remark. But hey, maybe it was a blessing in disguise that you didn't get hired here?
    – Makoto
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 16:22
  • 12
    @Mithical oh, we can and should do worse than a "mod-only" strike. Users should join too. Stop answering, stop working on the review queues, let them realize that getting new question isn't that great if they are unreadable and unanswered...
    – SPArcheon
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:56
  • 8
    @SPArcheon such wide user strike will not happen. Even during Monica there was vast number of users that haven't changed their interaction with the sites and I have a feeling that this time even mods and curators striking might not be enough. Back then there was still the need to maintain content quality (selling the company has not yet happened), and I don't think that quality matters any more. It will be just squeezing money as much as possible until everything completely falls apart, but at least numbers will be good while going all the way to hell. Commented May 30, 2023 at 18:02
  • 14
    The most amazing thing is that SE is going to utterly ignore this discussion, we won't hear even a beep from any staff member. During Monica case there was Yaakov to serve as bridge, but pretty sure he got tired of this and won't do that again. Commented May 31, 2023 at 7:55
  • 16
    @JourneymanGeek Your problem, along with much of the moderation team, is that you continue to assume you're being listened to. You're not, and the only way you can change that is by drastic action, not Yet Another Angry Meta Post. For hope to continue to live, sometimes fire must burn.
    – Ian Kemp
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 9:53
  • 7
    Not really. I don't hate the buttons specifically. I dislike that it came above changes that might benefit the community more directly Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 1:02
  • 9
    Note that the previously mentioned strike has now been organised and is set to start on Monday.
    – Zoe
    Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 10:05

6 Answers 6

128

A related issue: the company does not know that it does not know how to be inclusive.

Accessibility

To abridge the Introduction to Understanding WCAG 2.1:

Anyone who wants to use the Web must have content that is:

  1. Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  2. Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable.
  3. Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
  4. Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

There are many general usability guidelines that make content more usable by all people, including those with disabilities. However, in WCAG 2.1, we only include those guidelines that address problems particular to people with disabilities.

WCAG isn't the be-all and end-all of "accessibility", but it's a pretty darn good start.

Blockquotes

Using images from Changes to block quotes in the pipeline and a screencap from Shakespeare's “say sooth” vs. “tell truth”.

Pre-history

The background is desaturated orange-grey, with thin lines at the top and bottom.

December 2018

The background is desaturated yellow-white, with a thick yellow border on the left.

February 2020

Some improvements to blockquotes. -1 score, with many legitimate criticisms.

The background is white, the text is black, and the left border is grey.

Now

The text is now grey.

This whole chain of changes has left us with a less-obvious, lower-contrast, harder-to-read blockquote. But the design is "cleaner", so it's okay, right?

Voting buttons

2022: A/B testing updated visuals on vote arrows. -288 score, with many legitimate criticisms, including the claim that the new design better complies with WCAG, which it does not. The company decided not to go through with this.

2023: Shia surprise! We are graduating the updated button styling for vote arrows

And there's more!

Here's a couple of other design changes that nobody asked for, received a lot of negative feedback from the community (and/or requests to revert them), but SE ignored and changed anyway:

User agents (inc. screen readers)

The website is less usable than it was in 2008.

  • Badge counts are now read properly.
  • It no longer uses a table layout.

That's all I can say in its favour, really. I mean, just look at it in Dillo.

svn revision: 3240 (2009) rev 2023.5.26.43462 via IA
(with missing CSS)
rev 2023.5.26.43462 directly
(with full CSS)
The design's a bit buggy, but fits on the screen You have to scroll down a lot Topbar isn't displaying, , and there's a huge combobox in the middle

2,17855 gold badges2626 silver badges3030 bronze badges

Ah, I praised this too soon. Rather than implementing it properly, you used a brittle hack that just happens to work in the screen readers you tested. This doesn't happen with robust HTML.

(I have a transcript of Orca's output on this page, if you want to have a look. It's awful – and too big to fit in this answer.)

Chat

We are expected to move lengthy comment discussions to chat. Chat is not usable for all our users, and rooms created in this way are not exempt from automatic deletion.

New users

New users interpret moderation activities (downvotes, closure) as personal attacks, and get (understandably) upset. The solution is, clearly, to present our moderation in a way that doesn't upset them:

And then, that stopped being the obvious solution. Instead, we got the welcome wagon. Here's a timeline; some highlights:

Now moderation (e.g. voting) is down. Also, users get frustrated when they can't upvote answers to their questions. The solution is obvious!

  • Allow users to vote on answers to their own questions, just like how they can comment.

Sike! As per We are graduating the updated button styling for vote arrows:

  • This means that 1 in 4 new users attempted to vote, but could not due to system limitations.

Because voting is one of the lowest barriers to participation, we felt that this was the best place to start to help users engage more on the platform.

I think you can probably guess what the plan entails.

Minorities

I don't actually want to get into this again. So rather than any of the obvious examples, I'll leave you with a subtler one.

You're not… explaining anything

2018-08-17 Makoto:

I want a satisfactory answer as to why it matters

2019-06-21 Makoto:

Stack Overflow wants to portray that they have metrics and data that indicate that questions are improving with the new wizard, but if there's no data to back up that claim, then there's nothing to prove that it's accomplishing anything.

What would be the real relief? Demanding better tools.

2019-07-29 amon:

An increasing rate of incomprehensible actions

You're asking for feedback, but you're not listening to it

How is that inclusive?

Diagnosis

Here's my speculation, Stack Overflow.

  • You think you are more capable of identifying problems.
  • Once you have identified a problem, you keep it internal, and do not consult the community.
  • Once you have identified a solution to that problem, you keep it internal, and do not consult the community.
  • Once you have implemented the solution, you keep it internal, and do not consult the community. Occasionally, you consult moderators, but by this point things are basically set in stone. (The new Code of Conduct was an extreme outlier: you decided on the entire approach, and didn't even explain half the urgent motivating factors, but at least we managed to get some of the wording changed.)

You have some kind of self-directed Gell-Mann Amnesia effect:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

Despite providing the infrastructure for tens of thousands of genuine subject-matter experts who are more than willing to share their expertise, you think your small overworked group of employees is going to do a better job alone than by asking for help.

Just, please. Tell us what you're doing. Run stuff past us before you've invested months of work into it. Heck, if you're embarrassed about it, run it past just the moderators: I promise we'll be kind, if you stop approaching us qua Dictator.


Have I missed anything important?

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    It feels like almost unfair piling-on to put this all in one place, but there really does seem to be a lot of source material. Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:17
  • 8
    A couple of cases to add to Accessibility, although I'd call it "awful design changes nobody asked for, but they did it anyway" (and didn't revert, despite the negative feedback): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
    – hkotsubo
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:20
  • @BryanKrause Perhaps – but I've only included problems with the same root cause.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:24
  • 1
    I only said "almost" unfair. Really, it's quite compelling. Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:26
  • @hkotsubo Could you (or someone else) edit those into the answer? Like many moderators, the recent stuff has thoroughly exhausted my spoons. (See also: the uncharacteristically-for-me poor grammar and formatting.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:30
  • 28
    it almost looks like somewhere up the management chain users are seen as as a consumable resource as best, noise to suppress at worst. That was made quite clear when meta user were name called for the first time as that "vocal minority" that "makes employees unwilling to engage" (actual words were a tad worse). Since then we had multiple apologizes, legal actions swept under rugs so no one will know what happened etc. But I still feel that same exact attitude that made me stop to contribute outside of some small answers posted now and then.
    – SPArcheon
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:34
  • @wizzwizz4 Done. It's not as detailed as you did with blockquotes, but anyway, more details can be added later (honestly, I don't have the time or energy to do it now, I'm just tired of how SE is disregarding us)
    – hkotsubo
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:44
  • If you want others to edit easily, better make it into a CW. Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:45
  • 2
    @ShadowTheSpringWizard if other people end up editing it a lot, sure. (It's not like I'm getting rep for it: I'm already rep-capped for the foreseeable future.) But I do intend to maintain this answer myself, once I have recovered emotionally.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:51
  • 14
    Ah geez, I'm not sure I need to answer this question anymore. You've said everything I've wanted to already, and then some.
    – Makoto
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 19:15
  • 1
    @SPArcheon I think it's a downspiral of a feedback loop at this point. Meta users are frustrated, they get more harsh and annoyed, employees become more reluctant to engage (I mean who ENJOYS having to be the one to respond to people who are angry about decisions you didn't personally make), resulting in worse communication, resulting in the company becoming more out of touch and making worse decisions, etc.
    – ahiijny
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 16:24
  • @ahiijny But whenever this sort of thing happens, the employees suddenly start engaging. They're just putting off the inevitable by not sharing their ideas ahead of time. (That would involve the company's management devolving some of their control over Vision and Direction, and that's not how career C-suite people usually operate, but Stack Overflow is not like other companies.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 17:07
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4 perhaps more engagement, but in kind of a "we have to deal with this fire now" kind of way, which I imagine can't be very good for building rapport 😔 I can kinda imagine what the C-suite people are thinking, though. "Those nasty meta users always shooting down our plans and being so critical and unsupportive. So instead let's just steamroll our changes in without consulting them bc it'll be easier that way ccccc:" Legitimately I think the backlash against the voting buttons would not have been that severe if mutual trust had been higher.
    – ahiijny
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 17:25
  • @ahiijny Well, if they'd actually addressed the issues before rolling it out, too… Fortunately, if history's anything to go by, a crisis like this is immediately followed by the CM team being allowed to do their jobs – and hopefully being given enough slack that they don't get rushed and start dropping balls.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 17:28
  • 1
    Ah, well, thanks for the heads up. I'll just leave it for another mod. I just don't have time to try to find one that hasn't gone on strike (yet). Quite frankly, I'm surprised that answer never got flagged in the first place. Aside: SE needs to realize that every minute one of us spends on here is a donation of time - often at the expense of genuine paid work for our actual employer.
    – Randall
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 16:36
77
+50

At the moment, Stack Overflow looks an awful lot like Twitter:

In spite of all this discussion of celebrity and checkmarks, my problem with the new Twitter is the utter incompetence of the new CEO when it comes to community management. It offends my professional sensibilities. You never know when he’ll do something off the rails like hobbling posts that link to a competitor.

Of course that’s also why I stick around. Everybody understands the sick attraction of watching a train wreck. But imagine what it must be like for railroad experts to watch one preventable accident after another. There’s a feeling of utter helplessness, but also morbid curiosity. The good news is that the running string of Twitter disasters is mostly only going to hurt people invested in Twitter. Honestly, most of us would be better off just giving it up.

I think insanely competitive people have a leg up when it comes to becoming leaders in a "tech company"[^1] but competition isn't always the most effective strategy when it comes to community work. It's especially harmful when the community was built on the foundation of collaboration:

Stack Overflow is, as much as I could make it, an effort of collective programmer community.

You might remember this was the post that included this image:

Stack Overflow: None of us is as dumb as all of us

That picture, even though it was a throwaway joke, helped build a community that's substantially smarter than any one of us. Indeed it built 180 such communities. It takes a certain misplaced confidence or wild desperation to pivot away from that sort of community to a (so-called) artificial intelligence model. At the very least, take a moment to appreciate the goose before digging inside it for golden eggs.


Also like Twitter, there's no easy solution. If everyone picked up and left for Codidact, that would probably be the best way to preserve what these communities were founded on. It's, unfortunately, not as easy as a mass exodus (which is already very difficult) because so much of our history lives on this network. I suspect these communities will suffer slow declines until everyone suddenly notices the party is over—the Usenet route.

It's tempting to think a change in leadership will help. But remember it's unlikely you'll find anyone who has just the right characteristics to pull off what Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow needs:

  1. commitment to financial success and
  2. investment in community health.

Much better for the existing leadership to listen to the people who made this place worth investing in in the first place.

To that end, I recommend firmly, but politely, reporting outcomes. What that means is:

  • Focusing on data whenever possible.
  • Praising wins, even if they are not what we'd like or ideal solutions.
  • Sharing negative outcomes in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Show your work, whenever possible, when connecting an outcome to a cause.
  • Don't be discouraged if it seems nobody is listening.

Nothing lasts forever. When I joined the Stack Overflow beta, I thought it was a goofy experiment that I'd play with for a while and move on to something else. I was right! It's just the experiment lasted for far longer than I ever could have anticipated and became a much larger part of my life. I'd love to see a change in trajectory. I even hope for it. My optimism comes from seeing what you all have been able to accomplish when you work together for a common goal. My pessimism comes from seeing how impenetrable the company has been to your charms so far. :-(


[^1]: Huge aside, but when will companies learn that technology always exists in service of some human need? Uber isn't a "tech company". It's a taxi company that uses mobile phones to replace dispatchers. Stack Overflow will flail away until it figures out what need it actually fills.

3
  • 5
    I would say whenever there was a need to choose between a better bottom line and community resources, we have always come second Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 4:22
  • 1
    I believe that the Stack Exchange, Inc has let down the community. It seems that the brand/name "Stack Overflow" has been taken from the Q&A site/community without permission. Currently, this brand is being used to promote products, giving the impression that the community endorses them. However, many of us who identify as part of the community are not pleased with some of these products and do not endorse them.
    – Rubén
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 18:11
  • It remains unclear which community members have endorsed these products.
    – Rubén
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 18:18
72
+150

You're mixing a few things here that while somewhat related, are rather distinct issues. SE losing staff with deep experience with the network, and not hiring (intentionally) new staff with network experience is an entire separate subject. And the general prioritization of features has always been a bit iffy, it's understandable as it makes sense to prioritize based on business reasons to a large degree. Though as a whole the neglect of some basic issues with the network combined with the recent layoffs paint a picture of the future that doesn't look all that nice.

I think the main issue right now is that SE is pushing two extremely unpopular changes, and is doing that in a way that removes any hope some might still have had for a collaborative way of resolving issues. The GPT announcement was an edict, SE wasn't asking for our input, they just handed us the new rules. They didn't even hint that this topic was something that concerned them, we went from not knowing there was an issue at all to a very broad and categorical rule that doesn't leave any room for mods or communities to decide the rules.

This decision, if it is held up as proposed would remove any agency from the communities here, they are no longer free to decide how to handle artificially created content. That is a very intrusive step that came out of nowhere.

Overall the impression is that SE is making the decisions, and then telling us about them. We're not part of them, when we hear about them the decisions are already made. Which is not that unusual for a company, but one big difference right now is that they're touching core areas of the network with vast implications. And the community has no say at all here.

Those actions are seriously problematic on their own, but they also indicate serious issues in the relationship between SE and the mods and community.

9
  • 38
    I'm sure the reasoning behind banning detection tools is to avoid having "Anti AI" stamp, which will harm them badly if going into AI, which they plan to do. It has nothing to do with the detectors being inaccurate, it's just a very lame and transparent excuse. But even more annoying, is the way they keep lying about all of this. Tell the truth, even if it's unpopular, and at least you'll get to keep some respect. Sad. Commented May 30, 2023 at 14:37
  • 9
    @ShadowTheSpringWizard I have no idea what they think AI can bring to SE and it seems like this is the path we are heading one way or the other. Allowing AI content here is the fastest way to crash the whole system. Commented May 30, 2023 at 14:43
  • 14
    @ResistanceIsFutile they don't think, that's the whole problem. They see AI as the goose who lay golden eggs, and just want some of those eggs, no matter the actual cost. Commented May 30, 2023 at 14:52
  • 32
    @ShadowTheSpringWizard There are lots and lots of ways to both integrate AI into the site, and to leverage the content here for future AI development, while actively banning external AI-generated content from posts. Yet, indeed, I think you're probably right, and the people making these decisions don't understand any of it: SE itself, AI/LLM models, or their interaction. Commented May 30, 2023 at 14:59
  • 32
    I think we are past the time of thinking that management doesn't "understand the community" or the mechanisms or everything else. It seems to me more simple than that. Probably we should instead wake up and understand that the network we knew doesn't exists anymore, this was sold as a mere product, it's just business, and it works in a different way now (aka "accept or look somewere else"). All the points and discussions are "right", but just aren't relevant to this business anymore.
    – Largato
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 16:16
  • 3
    @Bacco sadly that's correct, and it's a repeat of a previous forum I was member of for long years, since 2000 until it was sold and closed down due to extreme "makeover" around 2010. The company that bought it made it into an advertisement board, with ads feeling each and every spot on the screen, all active members left, and visits dropped from millions to hundreds, those hundreds being only spammers, or me. Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:33
  • 1
    @ShadowTheSpringWizard Yes, lack of thinking is the core issue. Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:41
  • 4
    @ShadowTheSpringWizard indeed. I hope people understand I'm not bashing anyone, it's just that I'm feeling that people (old time users, as I am) are spending a lot of energy trying to solve an ant problem, too attached to the past, and didn't noticed the elephant in the room. Maybe I can help some people to rethink the angle.
    – Largato
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:42
  • 5
    @ShadowTheSpringWizard I can just imagine the meeting where someone pointed out that community moderation is going to mass-delete their fancy new "suggested" titles if they fail to pass for human, majorly embarrassing them in front of the "AI" crowd they're clearly courting.
    – Willa
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 18:26
69
+50

Is there an actual plan for community growth as far as getting people to stick around?

There is no plan. They are just winging it.

I could be wrong. I really, really hope I am wrong, but I have seen this happening before.

Before the company was sold, there was still an idea or at least a need to maintain sites' reputation, quality, and sense of community because those were the selling points and integral parts of the product.

Now, we have entered a new stage of development, where chasing number figures on paper is the only metric for the CEO and upper management, along with throwing hot phrases and trendy features around to keep the appearance that there is some "important" work being done.

Quality, long-term sustainability, and therefore community engagement no longer matters. The sites, especially Stack Overflow, have some momentum that will keep them going for a fair amount of time, no matter how badly sites are managed, and whatever bad happens as the result of mismanagement will not happen overnight.

From now on, it will be just squeezing money out of sites as much as possible until everything completely falls apart, but at least numbers will be great while going all the way to hell.

And you don't have to worry, before we hit rock bottom the current CEO and management will be long gone as they will fish some new, better jobs with the great numbers they had on this one.

10
  • 3
    I mean, the momentum has been in a rather unfortunate direction as of late, at least on SO. I don't expect SO to stop existing, but... I'm concerned where the site will be once this freefall levels off.
    – Kevin B
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 18:36
  • 3
    @KevinB it will have fancy new buttons, that nobody will be using. That fake increase they're talking about it for one single reason: it's new, it's exciting, like couple in the beginning of the relationship. Once it fades, nothing will be left. Commented May 30, 2023 at 18:46
  • 7
    That last paragraph is the long-term plan. Milk the platform for all it's worth, then move on to the next platform to "monetize". Commented May 30, 2023 at 19:02
  • "...while going all the way to hell." Any estimation of how long that might take? And please don't say 6-8 weeks. My personal impression is that we can go on like this (not totally good not totally bad) for almost indefinitely unless something better comes up. Commented May 30, 2023 at 19:46
  • 2
    @Trilarion I would guess it would take years. Decline is already happening (talking from my SO experience), but it is a slow process and some tags may suffer more than others. Commented May 30, 2023 at 19:58
  • 8
    What strikes me as curious, given that SO supposedly want to monetise access fro AI companies, is that as more and more AI-generated content is added to the web non-AI-generated content is going to become valuable like pre-WW2 steel. Why throw away such a selling point? (I know, I know, number must go up before next investor call..). Commented May 31, 2023 at 7:17
  • @snakecharmerb Agreed. It will be "garbage-in-garbage-out" situation. I have no idea what they are thinking. Most likely there is no thinking at all. Commented May 31, 2023 at 7:42
  • The existing content remains valuable, so the site will probably not turn into Yahoo!.com any time soon. Expect to see the company get repeatedly sold off until it finally lands with someone who only cares about the traffic and replaces the contents with TV Shop ads. The path there will be erratic. There is no way to predict the trajectory or the velocity, only that the spasms of desperate changes will increase in frequency.
    – tripleee
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 16:13
  • while I have upvoted this post, I would also sightly change the "there is no plan" premise. The management probably sees the network as a dying gacha mobile app: something where you no longer have to worry about retention and user satisfaction because it will be gone soon anyway. Now the focus is making the most predatory banners to squeeze the whales while it last.
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 8:35
  • @SPArcheon If public site is something that you don't have to worry about as long as there is some traffic, then it fits into "there is no plan" ;) Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 9:12
60

I haven't seen a lot of that from Stack Exchange in the past...well, few years, but let's focus on the last month. We've been dropped edicts in the Teacher's Lounge and then left to argue between ourselves with no follow up.

- Me, nearly 4 years ago

The quote above was related to the code of conduct change. No, not the one that just happened. The previous one (or maybe the one before that, I've forgotten). The point is, the criticism is still valid and applies here too.

On a holiday when the bulk of the staff was out, a new edict was dropped. An edict that should be taking effect immediately, but wasn't posted publicly. An edict that will fundamentally change how I am to moderate my sites and support my community.

And then they just left moderators to guess what was really meant. Do we assume Stack Exchange has thought of everything we are raising as counter points? Do we assume they missed some of these? How do you assume good intentions if absolutely no discussion was had ahead of time, so we don't have any context?


Moderator and community (especially community) input is being given lower value than it should. I think this is putting it generously. In another meta post after the awfulness of 2019's problems, I suggested 4 ideas to help rebuild community trust.

Bring the new CEO forward on Meta to answer questions from the community. I have not seen anything from the CEO since they started in October. At least, not on Stack Exchange. I've seen a fair number of reports in the press about them. Come forward with your thoughts and present them to the community. Defend them to the community. Present your roadmap for Q&A, Teams, Jobs and anything else that impacts everything we do.

Obviously a couple products aren't valid here any longer, but the key element is that the CEO hasn't talked with the community. Instead we get blog posts that the community dislikes. A lot.

Stop saying "legal action" and providing lawyered language for the CM team to parrot back to us. Someone who is actually giving the orders needs to come forward and say it themselves or it needs to stop. The community can smell it from a mile away and every time it's posted another round of this begins. So, let the people you pay to manage the community actually do their job. They are here to build bridges and support our growth. You are crippling that. The distrust you've built up is very rapidly making this a situation that can't be resolved in a way that keeps the meta community around.

I'm not sure where this new edict and ideas are coming from. The CMs are still relaying information.

Select a project or two the community really wants to be completed and complete it. Rebuild some of that lost goodwill. There have been plenty of betas, announced projects, half demos, collaborations and "good ideas" over the last decade to write a book. Pick something that is feasible, non-trivial, and is wanted. Work from there. Knock a few of these out and watch that support rebound.

I think Journeyman covered this with the original post. This hasn't happened.

Stop issuing edicts without justification or further communication. Just stop. I, as a moderator, am not going to be the next person to parrot your words.

And here we are. It's still happening. I still refuse to parrot your edicts to the community. Come justify this to the communities this network is built on. Defend it and explain how it will help make things better. Convince us - convince me - that I'm wrong and you've thought through these changes and it will work.

6
  • 6
    Speaking of the roadmap... This month's been a one-year anniversary since I asked for it.... Commented May 30, 2023 at 15:50
  • 29
    At this point, I'm inclined to write a Meta post asking for the resignation of the CEO and the board. It's a pointless request from somebody all the way down on the bottom like myself, and completely unrealistic, but it's the message I want to send. Commented May 30, 2023 at 15:55
  • 3
    @Andreas The board can't resign, they are not even employees. They have one goal: to make sure the company is making as much money as possible, and they have no clue what the company actually does, what are SE sites, and anything else besides how much money it makes. I'm pretty sure the AI idea, and layoffs, came from them, and the CEO accepted it all as-is without making much trouble. Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:37
  • 10
    @ShadowTheSpringWizard Of course a board member can resign, if they want to.
    – Makyen
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:53
  • 1
    SO basically, they are expert at following hypetrains and trends (eg: "the big guys are doing it, let's go!"). aka they have no clue what the company actually does. @ShadowTheSpringWizard this feels dystopian when this is fully spelled out Commented May 30, 2023 at 19:25
  • @Nord also feels true. Commented May 31, 2023 at 5:20
28

Is there an actual plan for community growth as far as getting people to stick around?

Oh, they think they don't need us. They just want us to be training data for an AI and then dump us as soon as its development is complete. All SE thinks they need us for is a few months of training data and moderation. They don't care about the community anymore. They don't care what we think, what makes it harder for us, what the core values are, our trust, or frankly anything else. All they care about is making an AI and getting money.

6
  • 1
    "AI" is only the latest fad in business now. It will be something else next year. That ship, too, shall pass, if you pardon the pun. Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 12:43
  • 21
    We are fooling ourselves if we think SEI needs us. What they want is page views. We filled a knowledge base for them, which attracts visitors. Unfortunately for SEI, we insist on curating that knowledge base: we flag, downvote, vote to close... which drives new users away. So SEI has decided we're not needed. Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 12:50
  • 2
    @S.L.Barth That’s very short-sighted thinking. Eventually, the knowledge we filled the repository with, will be outdated. Before then, probably, there’s so much junk it can’t be searched anymore. But by then, AI is so sophisticated we don’t need to search anymore; we can just ask; («adding a conversational layer», from the CEO’s previous blog post). Well, that’s what they seem to think. They’re wrong. Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 13:43
  • 18
    I'd consider this hyperbolic if not for stuff like this... vice.com/en/article/qjvk97/…
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 14:22
  • @S.L.Barth that is why I am upset. But they will soon realize they can't have a community driven site without a community in the long term
    – Starship
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 15:58
  • @Shog9 Wow, you couldn't make this up if you tried. Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 15:57

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