What Stack Overflow is telling employees about the strike

I recently received two pieces of internal Stack Overflow communication about the "moderator action" that started on June 5. Obviously I'm no longer an employee by Stack Overflow, so these documents have been leaked to me. It's natural to wonder who leaked them and why. Some might guess it's someone I know from my time there who is sympathetic to the moderators' cause. That guess is wrong. It wasn't anyone on the community team or a developer. I don't know why this person contacted me other than they had read my recent blog posts.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://jlericson.com/2023/06/12/internal_messages.html

When I read the bit about creating friendlier and more welcoming site a huge involuntary sigh came out. I can’t express how sad I am that the company persists in believing that their woes are about friendliness of the existing community and not about how inhumane the Stack Overflow design becomes when you try to scale it up to millions of people.

There’s no such thing as a human community of a hundred thousand people. We do best when we interact in smaller groups and federate those groups into a larger organization. I bet if you look at the new user experience at one of the smaller (but still active) sites, it would be relatively good compared to SO, and it wouldn’t have problems with ChatGPT posts.

When people want to become part of a community, they try to learn an adopt community norms. When they’re trying to win points or get attention, they can be disruptive. I tried participating on SO. It feels impossible to become part of the community there unless you have built a reputation on a smaller site on the network.


This is a really good insight. One thing that might have helped years ago would have been to build in more tag-specific features so that communities could form around, say, Ruby or AWS. Collectives seem like a step in the right direction. Only it got off on the wrong foot and doesn’t feel like a fully baked feature. Another option would have been a Reddit-style sub-stack feature. (Too late for that name though.)

I’m not sure we knew what we were doing when I was on the CM team, but we did try to push for features that we thought would help. Never seemed to be the confluence of resources and focus necessary to refine anything, however. :frowning:

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I think the first step toward a solution is getting people to agree there’s a problem to be solved. When times were good and SO had a lot of growth, it was easy to ignore that new users weren’t getting the same experience the now-veteran users had when they first started engaging. Everything seemed to be working. The problem with communities and engagement though is that it’s really hard to measure how many users might have become engaged if they had a better experience with their first post, and what exactly would have made the difference for them.

The ELL mod team suspended a sock puppeteer who was just really excited about getting involved and wanted to earn privileges quickly. After their suspension, they were an upstanding member and still really engaged. I don’t think closing new users’ questions or mistakenly suspending them is unequivocally driving them away. What’s worse than having your question closed? Being completely invisible when you’re trying to engage. Even negative (but constructive) feedback is better than being ignored.

On ELL, we had Snail and JR as our secret weapons. JR’s mod messages had just the right amount of firmness and Snail was a wonderfully patient teacher. We couldn’t have given new users the sort of attention we did if there were thousands of them, no matter how many mods we added to our team, and we would have gotten burnt-out trying.

I feel like the bar to create a new site on the network is at the same time too high and too low. The process of going through Area 51 is too onerous for doing something like splitting a piece off of SO as a sister site, but it also allows for the creation of sites that are popular but don’t fit well into the SE model of objectively ranking answers. I’m sure Parenting has a great community but how do you properly support an answer on there without a scientific study that most of the audience doesn’t have the knowledge to understand the implications of? It doesn’t fit the model, which sets up a unresolvable conflict.

If I were going to tackle the issue, I would look for ways to let smaller communities emerge organically and give them tools to ‘claim’ parts of the network for curation. Maybe something guild-like with “this tag maintained by the Oxford Comma Appreciators” or something. In games, guilds/clans actively recruit new users into their communities, and compete to be attractive to them. SE could have guilds focused on editing, or asking questions. Although guilds would have implications for voting and reputation.

One problem with that approach on SE, is that there is a group of people who believe anything that lets people connect outside of curating objective content will destroy the network that they love. They like how things are and don’t want it to change, even though it’s impossible for it not to change.

I have a lot of thoughts about this topic apparently lol but I need to get some work done.

I just really miss being part of the ELL mod team back in the good old days when my biggest nemesis was the grammar tag. I wish everyone on SE could have that sort of experience.


Actually thinking about it, there are existing guilds on SE, like the group involved in running the spam bot. I think it wouldn’t take much to encourage more groups to form and start recruiting. There would be opposition to it, but that’s what happens
when you squander your users’ goodwill.

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