On Recent Concerns regarding the direction of Stack Exchange

2018-05-15 by Grace Note. 0 comments

We’re sorry if our recent blog post felt belittling given your efforts; it wasn’t intended to come off that way.

If you’ve been struggling to keep your site civil and welcoming despite shortcomings in our software and stalled development on most tools, our recent blog post might have hurt your feelings a bit because it didn’t do a good enough job of highlighting the truly human and compassionate touch that you provide every day.

We’ve got no excuses there, just like we didn’t have any excuses in the post. It was a difficult piece to write, and could have been a 10-or-more part series that dove more comprehensively into every point that we brought up in a single post. We felt that we needed to write something that was as all-encompassing and admissive as possible concerning problems that have been festering for a while now; leaving out mention of the work you do every day that glues this place together was not an intentional omission, and we’re sorry that we didn’t shine a bigger light on what you do. That goes for all users that go out of their way to be amazing and helpful people on our sites every day, it just happens that group includes all of you.

More frequent updates

We know that we’ve got a lot of things going, and while we’re making an effort to be more present for live 1:1 needs, we see the need to consolidate updates that are easy to find and refer to as we do a whole lot of things around updating terms, working on welcoming initiatives (which means shiny new tools coming down the road), and other stuff. We’re going to need your help more than ever as we look at what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to giving new users the most possible welcoming experience.

We feel like we lost some of you along the way in the last few years as we kept encouraging and acknowledging time you were spending suggesting things that could have helped us avoid things coming to a head as far as how new users have been experiencing the sites. We want to get back to working more together and actually putting some metal behind the words to make things better for everyone.

We originally built this network around the concept of incorporating a lot of feedback from as many perspectives as we could get, including those that tend to see the worst experiences that folks have, and the reasons behind those. Somehow we stopped listening to that signal as we worked to reach a lot of goals, we consider that to be a pretty big mistake.

Part of that means letting all of you know about important stuff that gets discussed, so you don’t miss an opportunity to weigh in on it. To that, we’re going to try to commit to getting this newsletter out twice monthly, even if some issues just contain links to meta posts and feature ideas in an effort to be sure everyone sees them.

Some high level thoughts on chat moderation

You’ve probably seen the meta post Tim wrote about more aggressively enforcing self-moderation in chat, and what that might mean for you. Essentially, there’s no new policy being put into play, we’re just going to be enforcing our existing code of conduct more consistently.

We want chat to be an enjoyable place where people don’t feel like they need to walk on eggshells, but at the same time, rooms need to do an automatic course correction if it’s pointed out that the culture has become unwelcoming in some way, which often calls into question what isn’t being flagged.

It’s hard to define what looks bad in a list of bullet points that translate into specific things people can or can’t say. So we’re not going to. We have a “Be Nice” policy, and it’s even shown to new chat users when they join. It’s something that has to be enforced, and in all directions. Users should be welcomed as they attempt to participate, and treated with respect and dignity. Users should be able to respectfully bring up when a conversation topic leaks into problematic territory or language, and the room should be able to listen to this and acknowledge it accordingly.

This respect should extend to everyone, whether new to chat or a regular. Whether the exchange is from a regular to another regular, a regular to a new user, or a new user to a regular, each participant should be expected to behave appropriately and should expect to see their concerns given due consideration. So long as this is upheld, then there’ll probably never be a problem with the room being on our network, and we’ll remain proud to host it. If folks stay in-line with the code of conduct, then everything works keen. If folks stray from it, then actions such as flagging must be taken to rein them in, without breaking out of the code of conduct when doing so. This applies whether those folks are new or old.

We know that chat moderation tools need a lot of work, and we’re going to work on them. We hope the above description and info helps guide you until we get better tools to help room owners better set the tone with a system that does a better job of gently nudging folks to stay on the right track.

Thank you for your input regarding the new arbitration clause, though there’s still some confusion.

Everyone that offered concerns about the new arbitration clause to Jay, Tim, Abby & Shog9 did so with an extremely level head, and important points to be heard. We feel like we did a pretty good job of listening to everyone’s concerns and taking them back to our legal team, who delivered what we feel was the best compromise that they could, but concerns like these:

  • What does it actually mean to opt out, for me as a user? What changes?,
  • How (or even if) this new clause is applicable to users outside of the USA?
  • Are we planning to change our business model to something that we anticipate will make people want to sue?
  • Why have it, if everyone can just opt-out anyway? Why not just make it opt-in?

… are still coming up pretty frequently.

The meta post is long, and it contains a considerable amount of information that one might use to formulate their own answer to those questions. But, folks really want us to answer these questions more directly, so we will.

After we’re done announcing changes to the privacy policy and cookie policy to be in compliance with GDPR (more on that shortly), we’ll write some meta FAQ entries to specifically address individual questions in a manner that doesn’t require folks to draw conclusions based on an (over-?) abundance of information.

GDPR is nearly here, there will be more updates coming around that.

It’s hard to explain what the GDPR is going to mean for how we treat and handle user’s data in a paragraph or two, but here are the big things you should know about in a nutshell:

  • We’re following the EU regulations blanketly; we’re treating them as law for users in the EU and as hard guidelines for everywhere else. We believe in the spirit of what the law is doing, first and foremost, and being compliant everywhere means less chance of us breaking compliance by maintaining separate standards.
  • There will be a condensed ‘legal center’ on sites with links to the privacy policy, terms, acceptable use policy, cookie policy, etc, as well as links to GDPR-specific request forms that will be available to everyone, not just in the EU.
  • Nothing changes about moderation. While the minimum age to participate will remain 13 in the US, it will be 16 in other parts of the EU. There’s nothing in any law that says we need to actively look for under age users, which is a huge relief. If you notice someone revealing their age and you wonder if they’re too young to have an account, just use the ‘contact CM’ feature from the user’s profile and feel free to forget about it. An absence of action on our part can be taken as an indication that we looked, but didn’t find grounds to remove the account.
  • More will come in a meta post set to go out on MSE within the week.

We’ve got swag!

We’ve got items from most sites that have received custom designs, and we’ve got a lot of Stack Exchange branded stuff that tends to gather dust in our warehouse. We don’t want to encourage folks to find a way to give it out willy-nilly, but we do want to remind you that it’s a tool at your disposal if you think it could help reinforce your core communities.

We’ve had, well, let’s call it mixed luck when it came to offering prizes for content generation. While there have been some pleasant exceptions, sites have typically ended up with, well, posts that look like they were written to win a contest for generating content. We’ve found it’s better to find ways to use the freebies to reward your core users for doing what they do every day.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make it fun; you’ve probably seen some contests on Meta Stack Exchange that just asked folks to make silly hats, or draw silly pictures. We’re not suggesting you do that, but a site about workplaces could conceivably have a contest for the best fictional dossier ever created on an employee that HR keeps under lock and key. Hopefully, you get the gist.

If you need help planning a contest in advance, or just figuring out what’s available, you can simply post on your meta site. If you’d like to come up with a contest by conspiring with your fellow moderators and then surprising your users, work out the details then get in touch with us via email or in the Teacher’s Lounge to coordinate.

Note, in the interest of scheduling, we may ask you to schedule this a bit in advance, just so we know we’ve got coverage on our end to fulfill it, and enough inventory on-hand.