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I've been reading a bunch of messages from assorted staff. Some internal, such as on Meta, some in the company blog and other annoncements, and some on media releases. Most from the CEO, or C-level staff, yet some from CMs and devs. In these messages the term "community" is used in what must be diverse meanings. I had thought I was part of the community here, yet the usages seem to exclude what I consider myself part of in many cases.

I have, somewhat, considered some possible meanings for community as used in these messages. Some are overlapping, others are less inclusive, some are even mutually exclusive of others.

  • In the broadest sense: anyone who accesses any single page at least one time over the Internet
  • Anyone who has created an account - even without asking or answering a single question
  • Anyone who has asked a question, after creating an account, yet has not answered any
  • Anyone who asks questions or answers them, though infrequently yet more than a single event
  • Anyone who spends considerable time, over time, doing the asking and answering routines, sometimes "power users"
  • Anyone who has "bought in to" the network's value proposition, as given in the "Tour" for each site, and works toward that goal, including with curation activities (using more than a couple up votes and down votes counts)
  • The collection of elected, and appointed, moderators across the network
  • Any of the above categories, except on Stack Overflow only
  • Anyone who is a member of one, or more, collectives
  • Anyone who is a user of one of the many SaaS products being offered, such as a private Teams instance
  • Anyone who is a current, or potential customer of Stack Exchange, Inc., excluding their users
  • Anyone who follows Stack Overflow on LinkedIn, 𝕏, Reddit, or Facebook
  • Anyone who is willing to mention Stack Overflow negatively on LinkedIn, 𝕏, Reddit, or Facebook

For reference, the network's value proposition as given in the "Tour" of each site is:

... we're working together to build a library of detailed, high-quality answers to every question about ...

with the section following "about" containing words relative to that site's content.

I would like to think that community mostly covered anyone who asks questions or answers them, though infrequently yet more than a single event. That "group" includes, of course, those with higher levels of on-site activity. It also covers all the sites of the Stack Exchange Network rather than just Stack Overflow.

Some of the recent messages, especially from the CEO, have left me in serious doubt, however.

Blog post 2023-04-17: In this case, saying "Community is the future of AI" it seems that community is anyone adding content to the site (rather than passively reading it). (Obviously SO-focused, but SO is the flagship.)

… largest online community for coders to exchange knowledge,

Blog 2023-05-31: This would seem to be using "community" to mean the select, few, users who are employed in a company which might be prospect for one of the SaaS offerings, most likely Teams.

The community is often our biggest champion in the enterprise;

While I suppose anyone who knows of SO/SE in general, even if they've never posted or created an account, could "champion" the SaaS products. I rather think they probably wouldn't "know" about them, and certainly wouldn't know enough about the network to be of any value as a champion, however.

VentureBeat interview: This is a tough call.

… the company has slowly been working with the community, doing research and getting input.

Perhaps with the personal bias of thinking I'm included in the "community" mentioned, I'd be glad to be involved in research and providing input. The cynical interpretation would be "community" is the companies to whom the assorted, AI-based SaaS offerings might be sold. I.e.: sources of more income.

Since the present perfect continuous tense is used for the research and input processes, the implication is that some research is done already, and input has been received. Yet, aside from the disaster of question formatting, there hasn't been any research I've noticed in what I would call the community. And, with that as an example, extolling the aims of using AI on the site would be bad PR rather than good. Sort of leaves the cynical version as the leading candidate.

There are many other references extant, which I'm not bringing up. These are sufficient to cover the problem. What does the company, especially the CEO, think the word "community" covers relative to the SO/SE network of sites, and the company's efforts?

To be clear on the point, in my view, the community is the users of the public platform of SO/SE sites who have accounts, and are at least somewhat active on their chosen site(s). Someone who registered and posted a single question or answer is important to the site, and the company. I'm sure there are hundreds of one-off questions and answers in the network, and all of them contribute to the knowledge which is currently given as the reason for the sites to exist. I limit the "community" to those users who have taken an interest in building, and curating, that information. Those who are supporting the high-quality aspect of that goal. The common ground and the shared goal is what makes them a community, not the fact of being registered users. In my view of things, the moderators are part of the community, members with a track record, who've been selected to deal with the even tougher problems than the rest of the curators. Sometimes I think of them as representatives of the community, which isn't really what they are supposed to be. Yet, in the corporate context, dealing with some 500 community members can be just a little easier than some, (random number here) 100,000 users.

The content of Stack Overflow, and the quality of that content, seems to be a common theme used in PR messages. Yet, somehow, it seems that the people who create, curate, and care about that content, are nameless, faceless, and meaningless non-entities in the way the company treats them. This is not directed at any one individual, or any single department. It is an observation of the final effects of multiple decisions. The CEO has the ability, even if not the desire, to establish what the company's vision should be, and to ensure that "vision" is applied across all corporate actions. If that vision turns out to consider "community" to be something other than what I do, it would be helpful to me, perhaps a few others as well, to at least know that "community" doesn't include me.

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    My thinking is, they consider the "community" effectively anyone who can be reached by the annual dev survey, which means everyone from any network site, passive users, users who are subbed to the newsletter, users who use stack's products, and any user who may come across the survey via any other means such as twitter/linkedin. Which "source" they use feedback from differs based on which product needs to be justified.
    – Kevin B
    Jul 30, 2023 at 0:23
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  • Stack Overflow is just one of many communities in the Stack Exchange network ... stackexchange.com/sites#users
    – MT1
    Jul 30, 2023 at 6:26
  • LinkedIn, Reddit and Facebook is a far too limited description. SE is global, you need to include social networks in India, China and Latin America.
    – MT1
    Jul 30, 2023 at 6:31
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    Look up! There is a community around the CEO, the board of SE Inc, Prosus and the owners above them all of whom are enormously influential.
    – MT1
    Jul 30, 2023 at 18:40

1 Answer 1

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"Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange context" is way too broad regarding defining the meaning of "community"; in other words, "community" is a term commonly used very loosely in the "Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange context".

In some posts, "community" is used to refer to things that are listed in https://stackexchange.com/sites. In some posts, "community" refers to the users who actively participate in the things listed in https://stackexchange.com/sites. In other posts, "community" encompasses active lurkers (users who view/read content frequently but don't participate on the site/community) and occasional viewers.

Some people use "community" in phrases like "community consensus" when discussing their understanding of widely accepted practices and norms or making conclusions based on a post score.

Some users used the word "community" to refer to a user group when claiming stuff related to that specific group, i.e. "Lavander Community". Sometimes the Staff used "affinity group" instead of "community" when referring to user groups.

Several years ago, before the Co-Founders became "former Co-Funders" they and the early users used "community" to mean something. I don't know exactly when "Community User" and "Community Wiki" appeared. At some point, some people's job titles have the word "community", and some company blog articles were tagged community. There are staff / employees called "Community Managers" and a "Community Management Team". There used to be someone responsible for the International Communities and someone for healing the company's relationship with "the community".

Sometimes Staff uses "curators" to refer to users who use their moderation privileges.

It's common to find posts using the word "moderators" to refer to community moderators / diamond moderators although most of the moderation work is done by "the community", which means users who have earned and use their moderation privileges.

This site has the tag with the following tag excerpt:

For questions about fostering a sense of community amongst users of Stack Exchange sites

Also, this site has a glossary. From it:

Community

Or site. One distinct part of the SE network of sites dedicated to one topic. Every site stands on its own and determines its on-topic and off-topic subjects. List of all sites/communities.

Going fast to this year, attributed to Prashanth, the Stack Overflow, Inc. CEO, in https://stackoverflow.blog use the word "community". The person responsible for healing the relationship with "the community" hasn't worked in the company since several months ago.

So, the meaning of "community" should be determined in more specific contexts than "Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange".

References

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