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I'm pretty sure I don't want to do this every year, but I've been randomly reminded of my old post after the downsizings before last… about 4 times in the last two weeks. It seems like a sign. I feel like it's worth looking at where we are a year on, and see what's better, worse or the same since from the perspective of a community member.

One of the comments I got last year was:

@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.

I'll leave it to the reader to consider how correct that commenter was, and what wins and losses we got as a community.

Feel free to add anything I might have missed or your own perspectives.

In the interests of starting on a high note — I'll start with positive things:


The Data Dumps were restored and process improvements made.

The decision to shelve the staging ground on Stack Overflow was reversed.

We kind of have an understanding on handling AI posts, which essentially ended up being how we were handling it before.

I'd note though, all of these are more of "not doing the wrong thing" than doing something well.

While not touched on last year, we also had a mostly successful migration to internal image hosting to Imgur. It was mostly transparent — with a few small hitches which were very quickly handled.

I'd initially called it fantastically successful but got reminded in the comments that there's one ongoing issue that needs resolution


Now onto the negatives:

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.

Since then we lost two more community managers — Catija and V2Blast with deep ties with the community. We also lost a developer who'd spent a lot of time and effort building ties to the community — Yaakov, and the project he was working on at the time was shelved due to lack of resources - it was revived later, but this was never an ideal state of affairs.

If we do revisit this in future — I'd consider the size and composition of the team to be an essential point of reference to whether the company is doing right by us.

While the staging ground is back — that it was abandoned due to lack of resources at all while the company was putting resources into AI is unfortunate. I personally feel as a network, we have better engagement from giving people opportunities for mutual help than OverflowAI did.

A proposal is generally unpopular, or deeply popular when it has a nickname. The plan to allow users to vote from 1 rep was referred to as the other shoe. The initial plan had been to test it on smaller sites (I'd volunteered Pets cause I felt the goal of easier participation met 'our' needs, and I trusted Cat to keep our best interests at heart) but for some reason a decision was made to run it on SO first. I'd think it would be insulting to the community team to say they were unaware of how unpopular it was but somewhere along the line, someone decided to ignore community feedback and push through on it. The positive aspect might be the idea of it is now so poisoned that no one would try but done correctly, it might have potentially not been so bad.

I talked about the unpopularity of new voting buttons. Now we have new tags with the same response. Accessibility is a noble and important goal but I feel like with modern web standards, and a framework that's supposed to make for easier design, being able to switch back to design options we prefer would be nice. A year on, I'd say in this aspect we're neither better nor worse.


Going back to the core questions I had:

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'?

I think the one 'big' potential news is the tie-ups with OpenAI and Google. That said, we've seen losses from earlier decisions, and there's no obvious trickle down to the community. There's potential but we've not really seen what this means for us, either from SE or the sites they're selling their API to. Until we see benefits for the community, I'll reserve judgement on whether the current set of initiatives are a sign of more enlightened 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.

We had another round of downsizing. I'd give the company an F-- here. While I don't think any specific staff member 'deserves' to be let go more than any other, that we lost folks who worked closely with us makes turning this around even harder. Even if SE has no problems attracting talented outsiders, whom we may appreciate — that the company doesn't consider the impact of this is troubling.

I also feel like the company might be under resourcing some of the public Q&A teams or putting their work into less fruitful endeavours.

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.

The company still seems to consider AI its main selling/marketing point, which is a little troubling for a network of sites that is very much built around people. As a smaller site community moderator I've not really seen anything concrete that benefits my community or its growth from the company's current direction. It's probably a shiny short term marketing thing when the hype's there, but Its just not we are.

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.

Not really heard anything on this. I want to say it's status quo, but there's a few recent interactions with staff (I don't want to call anyone out, but I'd say, looking at recent, poorly received posts is a good idea) which still indicates that there's disconnect between what staff are working on, their communications and the community's needs. I also feel like the default response to many complaints is 'this is fine!'

Meme: Room on fire, "This is fine".
Original comic by K. C. Green

While I understand the desire to reassure the community things are fine, sometimes it just isn't and folks need positive actions to show things are fine, or efforts are made to improve things.

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

I've not really seen anything to this angle. I'm personally convinced that at the current level of resourcing, public Q&A and its adjacent resources like chat are creaky. I do hear assurances that things are ok — but honestly, I'd like to see more.

we need a way to ensure community interests are protected

There's some movement there, but its not public I think, so I'll update once it is.

On the whole, a year on, my personal assessment of where Stack Exchange is isn't broadly positive, and I feel we're not in a better place than last year.

In conclusion:

Meme: Are you aware that, at every job you've been assigned to, your performance review has been "Lacks enthusiasm"?

While we've not had a major crisis, I feel like the company missed many many opportunities to do right by its community.

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    Also this ended up longer than expected. I was thinking over what to say, and how to say it for almost 2-3 weeks, and wrote this in a single sitting. If you got this far, thank you. Commented Jun 10 at 3:46
  • 2–3 weeks of preparation should yield something pithy and focused.
    – jen
    Commented Jun 10 at 12:46
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    Or there's just so much you can't. Commented Jun 10 at 12:49
  • on the roadmap request, we did at least get Upcoming initiatives on Stack Overflow and across the Stack Exchange network.
    – starball
    Commented Jun 10 at 17:16
  • @starball I don't see where Upcoming sign-up experiments related to tags fits in that. I suppose it says "we are going to be focusing on" suggests the tag experiments are not going to have a huge focus. Or that there is missing announcement for upcoming initiatives. Like some sort of roadmap.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Jun 14 at 7:39
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    I wasn't asking for a roadmap - I was asking for things we wanted on the roadmap. If there's a part 2.5/3 to this, I've some other things to bring up, but that's gonna wait till I find the spoons, and try a more direct, less confrontational approach to some of these things. I'll say comparably.com/companies/stack-overflow/reviews is both heartening that people understand the issues, and disheartening that those people seem to be ignored Commented Jun 14 at 7:44
  • I'm thinking the move to Cloudflare has probably burned a lot of calories interally. All things counted, it's probably a good initiative, although the user-visible immediate effects should be minor (and even so, we continue to see fall-out where ideally there should have been none).
    – tripleee
    Commented Jun 18 at 11:45

1 Answer 1

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I fear you are seriously underestimating the detachment between the community and the company if you think that the average user "review" is "lacks enthusiasm".

I may be wrong, but in my humble opinion the average sentiment from those actually involved (I don't think it is useful to include those -actually quite large- part of the userbase that just use the site but does not care about the underlining "politics" ) by now is more akin to a "we will assume malice and bad intent".

Recently I posted this answer. It ended with this passage

In all of this mess, Stack Exchange instead of behaving responsible and stepping in to answer users concerns, once again is playing "three wise monkeys" and hiding its head under the sand like an ostrich, posting just a empty buzzword filled useless piece of announcement that discloses a "Responsible OpenAI partnership" without explaining how it will be responsible, what the users should expect or even what the partnership entails in the first place

I'll be honest: in my eyes recently this has become a "malicious silence", the standard practice for every question that fells "inconvenient" to answer. I can't no longer just look at those unanswered questions and think "probably they just have some policy that requires official statement to be approved internally". Shouldn't they at least post something later then, after they got thru all the legal requirement? Shouldn't they know that question were asked, that users were afraid and at least dispel those doubt in "6-8" time units?

@JourneymanGeek Your problem, along with much of the moderation team, is that you continue to assume you're being listened to.
Jun 1, 2023 at 9:53

... And my problem is that I have been pushed to the point I assume they are trying to keep us in the dark on purpose. And as I look around, I see many others in my same place.

While I recognize the issues of "assuming malice" by now I can't help but think that when one reads a question that ask them if they are doing bad things they would immediately answer and be outraged if that wasn't true.
After all, had someone asked you if you plan to "put a login wall on browsing the site" (something that Jeff and Joel would have never wanted for Stack Exchange)... you would be enraged by the idea. They should be pridefully say "we are better than this". They should even be a little offended we thought they could do that.

Instead.... nothing.

And when I see all that nothing.... I can't no longer help but ask myself if I am right.

I can't help to ask myself if they didn't want to tell use WHAT the options on the data protection request page means because they know that there are some irregularities that we may notice (btw... I think that one of the requirements introduced by GDPR is that the tools provide should be clear and understandable). I can't help but to ask myself WHAT exactly should be "SO SECRET MUCH RESTRICTED" about the OpenAI partnership that the company had to ignore every thorny question the users posted and can't be bothered posting any other info past the initial "It us. We allowed it" I can't...

I could still give them the benefit of doubt. I could still wait and trust things to go well...
But the company surely isn't making that easy.

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    I don't think it's as much "assume malice" as "assume incompetence". I don't think they're actually trying to harm users or the site, but that they're clueless about how to turn this site into a sustainable profitable business with a thriving community, and harming the site trying.
    – Erik A
    Commented Jun 11 at 9:39
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    @ErikA No, that part is easy: spin the Network off as a 501(c), accept community donations, re-hire the fired staff (those who haven't got better jobs, anyway), and let Stack Overflow Inc. continue as a SaaS / research group with lower costs and higher prices. What they're clueless about is how to turn this site into an unsustainable exponential-growth money-printing machine – which, I'll admit, I'm also clueless about.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jun 11 at 15:13
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    @wizzwizz4 Step 1: pay $1.8 billion for SO. Step 2: to be determined. Step 3: Profit! See - easy - just add step 2. And that's the problem ever since SO was sold, Prosus had absolutely no clue about step 2 but they apparently had $1.8 billions to burn. And so the network gets to suffer various strange experiments such as "fire everyone!" or AI tulip mania, in the search for that elusive step 2.
    – Lundin
    Commented Jun 14 at 9:46
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    Unless we are all making the wrong assumption that the board wants to earn money. If they were actually looking to lose money all this time, then that would explain every decision made the past 4 years, including why they bought SO in the first place.
    – Lundin
    Commented Jun 14 at 9:48

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