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My thoughts on the current state of Stack Overflow & Stack Exchange

TL;DR; Stack Overflow Inc. staff screwed up very badly in 2019’s autumn and since then its popularity is ever more declining and big parts of the community have lost faith. They’re working on it though, as it seems.

I will use the term “the company” to talk about the company “Stack Overflow Inc.” which runs the sites on the Stack Exchange network. When I use the term “the site”, I mean the website stackoverflow.com or it’s meta.

If you didn’t already know, I spent most of the time of my 2019 in the swiss army, where military service is still mandatory. It were 10 long months, but I learned some important skills regarding leadership.

Shortly before I returned, the company announced to their mods that the CoC (code of conduct) will change regarding gender pronouns (like he or she). From what I’ve heard, that CoC proposal was pretty strict which gender-unspecific pronouns should be used. A moderator by the name of Monica Cellio had their own way to be gender-unspecific, which led to a discussion and in the end they were removed as a moderator without a proper (final) warning or following the very process the company defined for moderator removal.
Monica told the community, the community got enraged and so began the great back and forth between the community and the company.

I’m not going into details of those “battles”, but it resulted in a literal train of diamond moderators resigning or striking. At that point I lost the trust and a great part of my hope in the company. After that, a lot more words came promising to change, until a question was asked in the private SOBotics channel. This question asked if SOBotics would participate in a temporary moderation strike. My answer to this was the following:

[…] Shogs departure from the company was just the last drop.

I say YES, give them one final chance. If they get it and attempt to fix this, great. If they get it and don’t do anything, leave. If they don’t get it, leave.

I’m considering to delete my accounts on SE (but will still communicate in Slack) if one of the two latter cases happens (which I don’t hope).

And my opinion on that stayed this way, even after Aaron Hall (a moderator on the SO site) met with the company’s management team. See my tweet from February 11th:

Until Thursday February 20th. Teresa Dietrich, the new Head of Product and Community, posted on SE meta with the title “The company’s commitment to rebuilding the relationship with you, our community“. Reading through that post, I regained some hope. I think they finally got it now that the relation with the community has greatly soured and suffered in the last few months. And the intent to fix it exists within the company.

As it seems, they put together a workforce to rebuild trust with the community. I have to say, those changes came unexpected (in a good way) and I’m positively surprised.

It seems they have interest to fix the mistakes they made, but right now it’s just words. The company has to turn those into actions and then we will see how the situation develops.

Personally I see the following points are what the company needs to do to achieve their goal:

  • Rebuild trust Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t have any idea how community-(re)building works. But they wouldn’t be the biggest Q&A network if they did it wrong since the beginning. But listening to the users and actually perform the addition, removal or fix of the stuff that the users report would be a great start.
  • More high-rep moderation tools I’m not a high-rep user at all (Currently at 1,2K-ish and may or may not get to 2K) but since a long time a have heard much complaints and the wish for a 30-privilege which provides said high-rep users with more moderation tools. As the site itself says on the review queue list “Stack Overflow is moderated by you.”.
  • Give lower-rep users some reward Especially on SOBotics, there are many users with less than 10K rep, which put a lot of time reporting “bad” posts using flags. My idea would be something along the line of 10 helpful flags with no declined (or even disputed) flags gives one rep. That way, my over 5K helpful flags would have given me about 500 rep, which seems fair to me.

Helpful Links

Stack Exchange Timeline – https://stackexchange-timeline.webflow.io/
[SE Meta] Firing mods and forced relicensing: is Stack Exchange still interested in cooperating with the community? – https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/333965/firing-mods-and-forced-relicensing-is-stack-exchange-still-interested-in-cooper

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