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Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming – It’s Time for That to Change (stackoverflow.blog)
558 points by ingve 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 695 comments



I've experienced a form of hostility in StackOverflow just recently--as in a couple of days ago. On a whim, I visited the website and answered a couple questions, something I'd never done before. I realized it was actually a lot of fun, so I started rapidly answering the all JavaScript questions I could as they were asked.

Suddenly a "higher ranking" individual started leaving comments on my answers that I needed to stop answering certain questions, and only address "well asked" questions. After reading the guidelines, I noted that neither I or the asker had broken any rules, so I commented that I felt I was being treated unfairly, and I asked where I could discuss further since the comments on my questions seemed inappropriate.

Suddenly another, even higher scoring person, deleted all the comments and locked my answer, noting that the discussion had stopped being productive. After that, my answers were left alone with no more meta criticism.

In my limited experience, it's a bizarre community.


> Suddenly a "higher ranking" individual started leaving comments on my answers that I needed to stop answering certain questions, and only address "well asked" questions.

I love Stack Overflow, and it's sure a valuable if imperfect resource, but this is something that drives me bonkers about it.

If the question is intelligible enough to receive an answer, and if your answer is potentially helpful to the asker, then it's well-asked as far as I can tell, and the scoring system can take care of its relative utility.

The additional level of moderation doesn't seem to have added much value over my time participating. The closest thing I can think of as nice is combining duplicates, though moderators often seem to miss subtle differences between questions and in some cases information gets lost in the end. Generally, the moderation focus often seems legalistic or driven by artificial incentives rather than primarily focused on improving the breadth, depth, and quality of the site as a technical resource.

Honestly, I'm pretty sure that a significant portion of the hostility people experience is coming from moderation actions.

I might hope the SO team has the intention of going to town on that problem in general, but I don't see it specifically mentioned in today's discussion. I'm sure that if they took it deeply seriously and engaged with enough specific situations where it's been a problem, they could find ways to do better.

I think today's announcement is a really good indication, though, that they're listening to people who are having problems with their SO experience, not just to people who'd congratulate them for their (deserved!) accomplishments and for whom everything is more or less fine.


I think the core problem is that they've focused too much on being like wikipedia (a single authoritative, comprehensive answer to each important question), and not enough on helping people to learn. Over time a site will grow a culture, and experts on the site will outweigh and overrule experts on the subject matter. In this case, we're also seeing answerers' needs outweigh askers'.

If you could only meet the needs of one constituency, I'd say they made the right choice to favor expert answerers, but I think there are other solutions.

Specifically, if I was trying to fix this I'd set up a two-tier system for questions and answers. There are lots of people who would be happy to answer questions, even if the question is a dupe, and even if it's not framed very well. Give people points for answering these in a kind way, and moderate around that.

For questions that are sufficiently well-asked, and not duplicates, elevate them to a wikipedia-like status: allow them to be indexed by search engines, make them easier to see by the expert answerers that dislike sifting through novice questions, and moderate them for quality. Give points for people that review and elevate high-quality, non-duplicate questions, or that edit questions to become high-quality.

If there are very different personas that you're trying to appease, sometimes a multi-tier system is appropriate.


There's nuance here. There are plenty of cases where individuals ask XY questions, meaning they've gone down a strange route to solve X and now need help solving Y, and it's always been debated within the community on whether you should solve X or oftentimes go to great lengths to solve Y. I've seen many questions where a solution to X is answered and heavily downvoted. I'm not sure how you resolve that.

Question: How do I #include a 500MB text file in my C++ code as a string? My compiler explodes when I do this!

Me: Don't do this, your compiler isn't designed for this! Consider loading the text from a file instead!

Comment: -1 Dude this isn't helpful. What if it's code golf and you need to include a 500MB text file!? You never know. Get over yourself.

Stuff like this has happened to me so many times.


Your kind of answer is precisely why I find SO useless.

When a user asks a question on X, it would be better to first assume that he knows what he’s freaking doing.

E.g. yes there might be valid reasons for inserting 500 MB as a string, and myself as another user desperately searching for an answer to it, I get pretty annoyed when I see answers for a Y instead.

SO contributors should answer the freaking question first. Can it be done and how. Otherwise the answer is of no use to people having the same question but for a different problem. Not to mention that I’ve seen questions closed as duplicates.

This is why I rarely go to SO for answers. I don’t want an opinionated forum, I want a mailing list where people assume you’re a grownup that really wants a solution to the question and not something else.


The people that really need to know how to insert a 500mb string will actually explain why they need to do so (beyond the typical “it doesn’t work”).

The ones that can’t explain why are almost always unaware of the actual problem they need to solve.


That's a pretty big assumption on your part. Unless you're going to cite some SO stats or a study on it, I'm going to assume that you're wrong.

Also good questions shouldn't need explanations for the reason you're trying to do something. It's not like I'm going to explain my business requirements on a public forum to complete strangers.

And I'm going to mention this again — if the purpose of SO is to provide a searchable database of questions and answers, then the answer has to match the question, not a supposed use case that the user may or may not have, because that answer is then useless to others.

Of course you can include 500 MB in a separate file and read that. It's totally uninteresting and now that SO question, along with its non-answer is showing up in search results, having precedence over others. Which is a pity, because I thought SO is a place where you can ask questions on obscure features of the tools we're using.


> Which is a pity, because I thought SO is a place where you can ask questions on obscure features of the tools we're using.

You can, as long as you're clear on why you need these obscure features. So there's nuance... if someone asks "hi, I want to call `add` like `add(10, 20, 30)` and it's not working" and the answer is "Use `10 + 20 + 30` instead!", they're answering the intent of the question. They've totally not answered the original question (I want to call add) but OP is probably misguided.

It'd totally be fair to say "Oh, declare a function with 3 params and return the sum, or even make a function with variable arguments, then enumerate over each of them, summing into an accumulator. You can also do this as a functional reduction. In fact, you can use the mapreduce framework to do this, and here's how to create an adder circuit" - Every tidbit of the above is just... overkill.

I totally empathize with you - it sucks to google "how to do X given good reasons Y Z" only to find a question "how to do X given terrible reasons A B" that's answered by "don't do X"! I think the way that's respectful of others' time is to ask another question and clarify why you truly need X.

If you've taught a multidisciplinary class, you'll have faced people who truly are confused - EE students who want to understand, for example, "how do I declare a 20 bit integer in C for this program that's running on Windows?"...


This removes a great deal of utility from the site. The majority of value in the site is not answering one individuals question at a time. Every single time I ask the search engine a programming question SO pops up as the first result. Most of the time that link has the answer I need, but every single time the conversation has violated some inane rule and has been shut down. Every single time. The rules are wrong, it is that simple.


> Most of the time that link has the answer I need, but every single time the conversation has violated some inane rule and has been shut down. Every single time. The rules are wrong, it is that simple.

Not 100% for me, but easily 30%. And you can almost taste the authoritarian arrogance dripping from the moderators words. I was disappointed this incredibly negative aspect of the site wasn't even mentioned in the post.


95% of the time I want to do something in a clearly sub-optimal way is because I'm required to use an unmodifiable code base that forces a path.

But sometimes explaining how the situation arises:

* Violates NDA/secrecy/licensing agreements.

* It can be complicated to explain the conditions that created the situation to people that aren't working with a custom/proprietary tech stack.

* Is irrelevant. If the operation needed to solve my problem can be concisely stated, why type a distraction?

I remember one post where someone said something like: "It'd be better if you tried this, but if you really need to do X..." followed by an explanation that solved my problem. It made my day.


> When a user asks a question on X, it would be better to first assume that he knows what he’s freaking doing.

Yikes. SO is where I learned to program, and if this were the norm, I wouldn't have made it.

If I ask a question the premise of which suggests I'm _way_ off, I wanna know. I have to imagine this scenario is far more common than the one you outline, wherein the poster has arbitrary constraints on his/her problem that need to be respected.

Let the voting system decide which answers are useful for posterity & which aren't. But to the answerers who take the time to help askers tackle the spirit of a question--not just its text--I say: thanks.


When you are doing something at work, often you have to do something that seems absurd to a random person on the internet, simply because the easy, sensible way would rely on things and people that are not under your control. A lot of people come from a perspective where you should be able to administer everything in an organization yourself, and that doesn't happen in any place I've ever worked. The vast majority of my experience with 'real world' programming is working around institutional barriers and silos.

I find the attitude of "solve your problem by ignoring stated constraints" particularly irritating among database gurus, who should be more in tune with the business world than a lot of people.

When someone simply refuses to accept the constraints of a problem, it doesn't demonstrate intelligence, even if the problem as stated is insoluble; better to just ignore it. All they are really saying is "sucks to be you, glad I don't have to work there" which is boorish and unproductive.

None of that means that people don't sometimes go down a rabbit hole that they didn't need to. But know-it-alls generally need to step back and either disengage entirely or consider the constraints on a problem.


> Me: Don't do this, your compiler isn't designed for this! Consider loading the text from a file instead!

A better answer would be:

This is wrong because <reasons>. Consider loading the text from the file. If you want to #include it anyway here's what you can try.

This will ensure that the code golf people can do what they want and normal people try the recommended thing.


I understand that sentiment, but for the overwhelming majority of poor questions the "if you really want to do that anyway" isn't useful to OP - they're clearly confused and looking for something else. In those cases, it's not worth your or the question asker's time to write an extended answer (especially if that goes from trivial to complex, overengineered, and esoteric). The StackOverflow community refers to these as XY questions.

Of course there are cases in favor of both sides here or there. If you have reasons to go the esoteric route, then you should simply explain why. If you're browsing from the internet, you have to understand you're reading a conversation between two individuals, catered to the question-asker and not the rest of the universe.


If only every moderator/admin was as reasonable as you!


My experience is always been like this:

Question: I'm trying to do Y so I can do X. I know Z is the right way to do X, but I'm not allowed to do it for $BUSINESS_REASON that I have absolutely no control over.

Response 1: Don't use Y to do X. Use Z.

Response 2: $BUSINESS_REASON is stupid, fix that.

Then some time later I'll come back and post my work around, with fair warning it isn't the right way to solve problem X, but if you have to use Y this is the best I've found.


Mine too. As a result I ask a question on SO as a last resort, and spend more time preemptively addressing those kinds of unhelpful responses. It always seems like I have to make at least 3 exasperated comments to try to keep the question on track.


That's what's called an "XY problem": you want to do X, and someone wants to write about Y, so he tells you that you actually want to do Y instead of X, and goes on to explain Y in excruciating detail.


I am an active contributor to Quora, which employs similar mechanics but has much higher adherence to being nice. When I see a silly question, I write a direct answer to that silly question and then write an answer to the question that may have been implied by it. I've written answers on data destruction for drug dealers whose phones are due to be seized, for example.


> There are plenty of cases where individuals ask XY questions, meaning they've gone down a strange route to solve X and now need help solving Y

In my experience I see more of the opposite: XY answers. I search for or ask X, and there's a bunch of "smart guys" trying to subvert a secret hidden context to the question resulting in a secret question Y. When I arrive from Google to see the Y answer on X question, the answer is useless because unmentioned condition Y doesn't apply to my scenario. Multiple answers are always great though, because sometimes there is a sane default answer, and one or more "well if Y applies, you might actually [...]". There's a lot of value in multiple answers with their nuances explained or why they're outdated or the new way explained, etc..


StackOverflow tends to want to make questions valuable to more than just the asker, but it's really annoying to come to a question from Google and find that none of the answers actually address the question that was asked.


Bad questions bad accepted answers go hand in hand.


Oh look a question, oh look bellow the accepted answer is the real answer to the question!


Yeah, this actually gets handled reasonable well by the combination of the accepted answer and voting dynamics. You can see which answer(s) everyone found most useful, and you can see the answer that the asker thought met their threshold.


> I think the core problem is that they've focused too much on being like wikipedia (a single authoritative, comprehensive answer to each important question), and not enough on helping people to learn. Over time a site will grow a culture, and experts on the site will outweigh and overrule experts on the subject matter. In this case, we're also seeing answerers' needs outweigh askers'.

there's also the third, silent, probably much larger group, who neither asks questions nor answers them.

it seems as though the single authoritative, comprehensive answers is what helps those people the most.

> Specifically, if I was trying to fix this I'd set up a two-tier system for questions and answers. ... For questions that are sufficiently well-asked, and not duplicates, elevate them to a wikipedia-like status ...

i think i'd very much like that to happen.


I'm in that third group because I perceive SO as a 'no good deed goes unpunished' culture. I already went through that with Wikipedia, and I've got better things to do than fight insiders.


truestory. I've been doing this for 2 decades and I've only ever posted one question on SO because it was super obscure technical thing that was totally un-googleable. I know not to ask anything less obscure. For community and "normal" questions there's reddit. I also only answer questions on reddit. I know there's prestige and it's good resume material to answer on SO, but reddit is a community whereas SO is documentation. Answering on SO is too aggravating.


Except part of the problem is that it's not even doing a very good job of giving a good authoritative answer either.

In the earlier days, it was designed to straddle the line more with a wiki; there were "community wiki" questions and answers, but people couldn't get reputation for those, and if someone's question or answer was edited enough it would automatically converted to "community wiki". However, people would get upset about losing the potential karma, so that feature was taken away, and major edits to other people's answers that change the meaning of it started to be discouraged.

However, there's no way for anyone other the person who originally asked a question to change which answer is accepted. So if someone asked a question 10 years ago, and someone gave a bad answer or an answer that is now out of date but which was accepted, and those two people have now left the site, there's no good way to get the first answer to the question to be the correct one. You can write a better answer, and even if it's upvoted, there will still be the accepted answer ahead of it.

I've tried following the original, more wiki-like spirit of the site by editing such answers, and then gotten other people reverting me because the edit would "give reputation to someone who didn't deserve it."

I feel like the incentives, and balance, and community of the site are just off right now. It still serves a useful purpose, but it could be a lot better, but whenever I've tried making suggestions for how to improve, I've gotten so much pushback that I've just given up.


>it seems as though the single authoritative, comprehensive answers is what helps those people the most.

I'm in that group and the problem is Google results seem to favor the recent, locked and left unanswered question over the so-called authoritative one


I just realized that here we got a point where DuckDuckGo is actually way better than Google. Having it as default I never stumble over this problem and usually find a pretty relevant answer in top results.


I agree with this. There are different goals for different people on SO, and while I think the blog is generally good and the idea for guiding questions is good, there's other low-hanging fruit here.

We tend to forget that even really basic things like googling for an answer are learned skills. Some people are so green, they don't even know what they are looking for. They have some collection of objects that they want in a certain order, but they don't know enough to know the name of the thing they are looking for is a sorting algorithm. Or you have a situation where someone needs a linked list, but they have no idea what to call it, so searching fails. I've seen genuinely bright people who are new to programming fail in this way and get really frustrated when people tell them to "just fucking google it" when they already did, but honestly didn't know what to call what they were looking for.

On the other side, you have some people who are not so interested in a single canonical answer to a well-formed question. There are people who really get a lot of enjoyment out of guiding people and teaching them.

I would say the quickest way to satisfy a lot of the dynamic here is to have a place to migrate really poor questions instead of just closing them down. Something like how-to.stackoverflow.com or whatever.

Yes, some people just don't want to learn and are looking for someone else to do their homework. It's true. But I think those are best evaluated by the kinds of people who want to hang out there and try to offer guidance rather than the population as a whole who is going for more of a nerdapedia site.

In other words, give the people who want to teach a place to teach, and give the general site a way to move those questions to that context. Let the teaching-focused users evaluate the genuinely bad actors.


> Some people are so green, they don't even know what they are looking for.

As a junior, I've run into this, especially since I have no mentor and I just kind of have to wing it when it comes to my own education. Example, I have an Android project where I use the HackerNews API to get the top stories, but I got the IDs and then the JSON for each all in one go. At the time, my thought was that I wanted to do this dynamically; I had no idea how to describe this to people for weeks. Then someone told me I was probably looking for "pagination". Boom, that was it. Don't know how to actually implement my own pagination still because all of the articles on it are trash and end up recommending the libraries for pagination anyway, but now I know!

One thing I've been pondering is if it's possible to have a sort-of "Junior's Dictionary" where a common (or semi-common) scenario is laid out and terminology is attached to it. Would have been great to know I was looking for pagination the entire time.


I think that will result in 10000 questions asking how do I add an entry to a vector. There are a lot of dear internet do my thinking for me, and no way those people are thinking or researching before posting


If there are people who need an answer, and people happy to provide that answer (and perhaps a bit of kind coaching on how to find answers in the future), what is the downside of letting them connect on stackoverflow? Nothing is forcing people to hang out in the novice area answering repetitive questions if they don’t want to.

The downside of disallowing ‘unworthy’ questions is that people feel made stupid for asking, and unwelcome. Also, people feel made stupid for answering, and unwelcome. There is plenty of elitism in tech, and you could keep the main stackoverflow for unique, well-asked questions, as well as adding the novice area.

The advantage of having a novice area of stackoverflow is that more people will use the site. While not every question will be great, the total number of great questions, and the total number of people helped, will be higher.


If there are people who need an answer, and people happy to provide that answer ... what is the downside ...?

Turnover/churn. If a Q/A site allowed basic questions then the site would be flooded with them since the population of novices greatly exceeds sophomores or experts. Moderation would need to keep up with silo-ing these Qs into the 'novice area' you propose. Experts would need to sift more to get to the interesting, challenging or novel Qs if moderation can't keep up, which might affect the retention of these users, thus diminishing the resource pool available on the site.

To me it's clear that tact and grace is called for, and is currently mostly missing, when directing askers of basic Qs to existing answers, whether on- or off-site but there is such a thing as tragedy of the commons. Some stewardship and curation is required to maintain an acceptable SNR.


> If a Q/A site allowed basic questions then the site would be flooded with them since the population of novices greatly exceeds sophomores or experts.

This is really excusing bad UI/UX (like surfacing existing answers while a user is typing a question) and a bad ranking algorithm. There is no such thing as "being flooded" only bad search algorithms, and bad UX. Google is "flooded" with a result set spanning the entire internet, and they manage to surface answers. Stack Overflow can do the same--they have more tools to rank and influence behavior (rewards, moderation, points) than google has because they control the site, its structure, and how it is gamified.


I disagree. Excessive copies of the same question can dilute votes, which is one of their strongest signals for quality, as it should be.


They get the answer by being linked to the question they duplicated.

The only problem is if the question is not exact duplicate, but that doesn't happen very often with such easy questions.


They tried running the documentation site for a while, but as far as I can tell it's already shuttered.


An example of the duplicate issue: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/41148357/force-kill-goro...

The user's question seemed like a fairly standard one: how can I force kill a goroutine. But actually there was a question underneath it. The issue wasn't that they needed to kill the goroutine it was that the library they were using didn't have a mechanism for timeouts.

The sad thing was there was a PR available that fixed the problem.

Its like arguing with someone who takes everything you say completely literally and makes no attempt at a charitable interpretation.


> The additional level of moderation doesn't seem to have added much value over my time participating. The closest thing I can think of as nice is combining duplicates, though moderators often seem to miss subtle differences between questions and in some cases information gets lost in the end. Generally, the moderation focus often seems legalistic or driven by artificial incentives rather than primarily focused on improving the breadth, depth, and quality of the site as a technical resource.

The problem is, they added the review queues, which prompts people to review questions on topics they might know nothing about, and give badges based on how much people review. So people go through those review queues and might be motivated to just get through things quickly without thinking very much about the effect of what they are doing; there is no meta review, no downside to just making hasty decisions that just prevent other people from engaging in useful discussion.


> there is no meta review

There is. There are "audit" questions designed to test whether the reviewer is paying attention. If they improperly vote to close a "good" audit question or improperly vote to leave open a "bad" one, they get banned from reviewing for a while.


OK, this may be a new feature, since I stopped paying close attention several years back when I got frustrated with the direction the community was going.

But I don't think that "audit" questions do much to address my issue. They enforce that someone is paying at least a little bit of attention; but they still emphasize things like voting to close a "bad" question, rather than helping the person asking the question ask a better question. They might help a little bit with people who are just not paying attention at all for questions which are black and white as to whether they are "good" or "bad" (such as blatant spam), but they don't help at all with pushing the "grey area" questions in the right direction.

That's the crux of the issue; the community is so focused on just cleaning up bad questions by closing them, rather than working with the person asking to help get them to be able to work better with the community.


There are far too many new questions each day for the people who are capable of mentoring an individual into asking a good question for Stack Overflow to scale.

Lets say that it takes 15 minutes in chat to help a person (who wants to be helped in asking a good question rather than getting the answer now).

Next, lets apply Sturgeon's law to Stack Overflow. There are 8000 questions a day and 90% of them are crap. Thats 7200 questions that need work. This is 1,800 hours of mentoring per day.

The close (and down vote) is such a minimal amount of work that it allows the group within the site that is striving for a particular vision of quality that it allows them to do the most they can. Furthermore, it is not infrequent that a person who provides assistant for trying to unravel a question from getting a "why can't you just help me now?" with assorted vulgarity interspersed.

On smaller sites, with a greatly reduced amount of questions per day the group capable of mentoring as well as moderating is able to spend the 15 minutes of time without significantly impacting the time taken to moderate and curate the rest of the questions.

With 8000 questions per day, its really hard to look at all of them. As I write this, there are only 16 people who have exhausted their close reviews for the day ( https://stackoverflow.com/review/close/stats - only 16 have 40 reviews). That doesn't show the people who are doing new questions, but it does give an idea of how shallow the bench of people who are spending time to moderate the site actually is.

Getting more people to help out would be great, but most people aren't doing anything to help.

There are also people who believe that up voting a newbie question and saying "welcome to the site" in the comments without improving the question is helpful.

The first post review and triage queues are intended for providing this help. You can see that this doesn't always work well ( https://stackoverflow.com/review/first-posts/19570266 or https://stackoverflow.com/review/first-posts/19569647 - note the not even trying to fix the grammar of the question or asking for the necessary information or providing help on how to improve the question, just no action needed)


The thing is, bad questions don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. If a question is bad, and it gets no answers, it will just languish. You don't need to do anything about it. Maybe have an auto-close after a week of inactivity or something. It probably doesn't really matter, as long as you actually sort questions by things like score, answer score, etc, so the bad questions just go down to the ends of all of the lists on pages no one ever browses to. Bits are cheap, a few bad questions being present on the site and not closed doesn't really hurt.

I don't expect every bad question will lead to a valuable mentorship opportunity. I've certainly encountered my fair share of those that weren't worth spending my time on.

Bad answers are more problematic; there's good reason to be vigilent about those.

And of course spam, obvious homework, and just completely incomprehensible questions should be closed instantly.

What I see is questions which are not phrased well but you can actually work out what they're asking being closed. So by the time I've written up an answer, the question is closed, and my answer is wasted. I can copy my answer elsewhere, and vote to re-open, maybe after editing the question to make it more clear, and it might get re-opened, but then I have to spend a lot more time and attention waiting for that. By closing out questions too aggressively, not only are people putting off newcomers, but also wasting the time of those answering questions.

> The first post review and triage queues are intended for providing this help. You can see that this doesn't always work well ( https://stackoverflow.com/review/first-posts/19570266 or https://stackoverflow.com/review/first-posts/19569647 - note the not even trying to fix the grammar of the question or asking for the necessary information or providing help on how to improve the question, just no action needed)

Yeah, one of the things that really frustrates me about the review process is that they just incentivize taking some quick and easy action, not actually doing the right thing.

Effective moderation is not easy, and a very different skill set than answering technical questions, but the rep needed to perform many of these mod duties is just given to those who accrue enough rep.


There is a system known as the Roomba ( https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/92006 ) that will automatically delete questions. A question has a negative score, and has no answers will be deleted in 30 days. A question that is at 0 or less, has no answers, has a low view count, and has at most 1 comment will be deleted after a year. A question that is closed, negatively scored, no accepted answer, and no answers with a positive score will be deleted in 9 days.

So that does exist, but it takes a LONG time for it to get cleaned up in some cases. And if people jump in with a "this might answer your question, hope it helps", it will likely never get deleted.

Its not that these questions hurt the site - bits are cheap. Its that they hurt the search results and the perception of the site. Admittedly a single reddit data point: https://www.reddit.com/r/stackoverflow/comments/8d15h4/10000...

> The toxicity is in all the unanswered questions.

---

> What I see is questions which are not phrased well but you can actually work out what they're asking being closed.

Consider fixing the question with an edit before writing the answer so that it won't be closed when you get around to writing an answer. This way its a good question from an earlier point in the life of the question. Furthermore, it makes it easier for other people to provide answers too. Leaving the question in a poor state with an answer makes it harder for the google only user to find the question and understand what is being asked.

---

Doing the right thing in review takes time. Many of the first post or triage reviews are done by people who haven't... fully bought into the philosophy of answers for people who haven't asked the question yet. They look ok to the standards of a 500 rep user who doesn't see what Jeff and Joel were trying for with Stack Overflow ( https://stackoverflow.com/help/privileges/access-review-queu... ).

There's no instruction for people for how to help in the review queues. As such, everyone is doing their own thing with their own "this is the quality that I'd write at, it looks ok." The only way to correct this currently is with review bans... and that has its own problems with negativity and the perception of Stack Overflow as elitist.


I'm really happy about this announcement. As a fairly high-ranked user myself (7.8k at the moment) I try to use the tools the site lets me access to counteract some of the nonsense directed at new and enthusiastic people and the unreasonable suppression of certain questions and answers, but there's only so much you can do when you don't have hours every day to go through the close votes and edit queues.

Heard so much from so many colleagues over the years about how SO is inaccessible and unwelcoming, and started to realise why. I'm glad SO themselves have been on the same journey, because they're far better placed to do something about it!


Similar experience here.

Once I made an account and tried to be more active. I got told off for asking questions about issues I was having or because my answers weren't liked by someone with high rep.

I gave up on it. I never use my stackoverflow account. I use stackoverflow on a daily basis, to find preexisting issues around what I am working on and read possible solutions, but thats it. I don't consider logging in and asking about an issue I am having, let alone help anyone else.

I feel like the toxicity around the community has led me into that. I do feel like people on stackoverflow are elitists, thats what I am getting about it. I feel like they are playing on a different league than me and they make me feel lesser although I am pretty certain that am competent enough to succeed.

I am grateful for stackoverflow, but I definitely don't see using an account on there anytime soon, and its going to take a long long time for stackoverflow to win me over as a contributor :/

P.S - Out of about 30 devs I worked with in the past / working now with etc I've only seen 3 of them using stackoverflow by contributing to it, or when they get an issue they post about it. The rest of them use stackoverflow the same way I use it which proves a pattern here, at least on my personal circle.


> I gave up on it. I never use my stackoverflow account.

This roughly mirrors my experience...

I went through a period of engagement, which ended abruptly after an unpleasant interaction. The author of a semi-well-known niche library took time out of his day to poo-poo a highly specific answer to a highly specific issue. Thing is, the questioner and myself were using that library a bit differently than it's primary usage (broad data generation instead of test-data management).

So I had to debate with myself if I was really gonna be using my time explaining to someone I'd otherwise have loved to bump into at a conference that the world is a complicated place and sometimes I use butter knives to unscrew things regardless of what Ikea thinks about it... Haven't posted since.


... "butter knives to unscrew things"... Savage! This is why we cant have nice things.


I'm a high-scoring user who has been put off by this exact behavior. The problem is, the behavior is pervasive among other high scoring users, and whenever I advocate against this kind of behavior, I get a whole bunch of pushback about it.

No one seems to want to change. No one seems to want to even engage with criticism about the culture; they just push back and pile on when criticism is brought up.

After a couple times of seeing this kind of behavior, and pushing back, and then getting piled on by people rejecting the criticism, I started to get tired of it and withdrawing somewhat. Later on, I some blatant sexism in a chatroom that was laughed off when I pointed it out to the moderators.

I've pretty much given up. I'll occasionally reply to questions people ask on my existing answers or if I see something that needs an answer or edit I'll make it, but I don't really feel like fighting the overwhelmingly elitist, sexist, and uncaring attitude on the site.

I think that this post is a nice gesture, and good that it's coming from the company and not just another user, but I worry that's it's much too late. The community has been attracting people who like it the way it is, and repelling people like me who don't, for a long time.


I’m in the same boat. 10k rep on SO and softeng.se, and I barely participate anymore. For me the most frustrating part is that the rules forbid vague questions with opinionated answers, but that at this point in my career most of the things I find interesting are all like that so there’s almost nothing I want to get answers to that I can ask.

Software architecture questions are very difficult to ask without triggering overbroadness. Another category that is off limits are getting started type questions, again they’re considered too vague (but that’s the whole point, the user doesn’t know where to start). And the illogical ban on pointing to research involving statistics also drives me batty. I’ve had arguments with moderators before where my answer was bad because it pointed to capers jones’ research, one of the most authorative sources of good software dev practices.

I always feel like it’s a game of dodge the moderator bot to get questions to not be closed, unless they’re of the boring easy to answer briefly and precisely variety.


This is an example of what I mean:

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/3698...

I'm sure the moderator feels entirely justified by closing this question, and going by the rules they are perfectly right, but it still feels wrong to me to turn this user away instead of working with them to figure out a way to make their questions fit the website's format.

But, that takes a lot of work, and moderators are volunteers whose time is entirely on their own dime. I suspect that if the stackexchange network had paid moderators the outcome would be very different, but they probably don't have the funding model to support that. I myself also don't do moderator duties on the SE network, so I really shouldn't be blaming the moderators. I merely want to point out the frustration and the non-optimal outcome, not lay blame at the moderators' feet.


At an arms length it really seems like there should be some kind of delineations of the questions.

"What document backend to use with Drupal?" is a question whose answers are in constant flux. It is a bad match for and Authoritative Language Compendium. But it's also the kinds of thing people wonder about, it's a relevant tech question, and the dialog around something like that is easily as valuable as the accepted answer since everyone is skinning a different cat.

So instead of "overly broad, no discussion for you" I'd rather see those questions get routed to "conversation-SO" instead of "reference-SO"...


> "What document backend to use with Drupal?" is a question whose answers are in constant flux. It is a bad match for and Authoritative Language Compendium. But it's also the kinds of thing people wonder about, it's a relevant tech question, and the dialog around something like that is easily as valuable as the accepted answer since everyone is skinning a different cat.

IIRC, they did something like that. It was called programmers.stackexchange.com, and I used it a couple times and it was great.

Then some power-that-be decided it "wasn't working" (probably because it didn't fit the SO only-kind-of-good-question rubric) and changed the focus be a clone of SO with some minor difference in emphasis.


I loved the early programmers.se. Then the mod hammer came down and broke it.


People weren't interested in maintaining the early programmers.se site. It was a "what to browse when there's nothing else to do." As the crud started piling up the options were either abandon it completely (that was threatened) or clean it up along with the associated rules of what makes a good subjective question.

It takes a lot of work to maintain a free for all site by the community. It takes less work by the community to maintain a heavily moderated site.

The culture of a site is a reflection of how much work people are willing to put into keeping it that way.


> As the crud started piling up

You'll have to be more specific about what that "crud" is, as SO's culture seems to have a tendency to reclassify the baby as dirt and throw him out with the bathwater.

> the options were either abandon it completely (that was threatened) or clean it up along with the associated rules of what makes a good subjective question.

Seems like there should have been more options on the table than "abandon" or "remake in SO's image." SO has a better population to answer subjective questions than most of the alternatives it tries to push people towards. They really should have been more flexible.


There's some remnants of this era on the meta site. For example, consider the argument for https://softwareengineering.meta.stackexchange.com/questions... asking "who would be the most efficacious patron saint of programmers". It was a the era of "what should I name my cat?" ( https://i.stack.imgur.com/HEZ2Z.png ) and Perks for new programmers ( https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/1069... ), Do you fart in your cube? ( https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/4954... ), what is your favorite cartoon?

The enforcement notice was with https://softwareengineering.meta.stackexchange.com/questions... (which also lists a lot of the water cooler days of PSE links).

The history is described in https://softwareengineering.meta.stackexchange.com/a/3415 . Also give https://stackoverflow.blog/2010/09/17/merging-season/ a read. Note the:

> There’s an even longer list of things that really belong on the new Programmers Stack Exchange, which appears to be degrading into fairly stupid water-cooler nonsense, and could benefit from an infusion of more meaty subjects, like these proposals:


> It was a the era of "what should I name my cat?"

A lot of those links 404 for me, but a lot of that stuff could have been taken care of by being better at defining what was on and off topic, e.g. it's a site for subjective questions about programming, rather than programmers answering subjective questions. SO has the moderation resources to handle that.


SO might have had the moderation resources. The early PSE site didn't (as described in https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/200144 ). The moderation actions trying to deal with that were done mostly by diamond moderator fiat and occasionally Jeff or Joel saying "no."

The community that was there at the time wasn't doing any significant moderation or curation of those questions. Consider https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/4417... and consider is that useful? curated? Should "Quit my last job." (entire answer) be there? or "I tried to apply good programming technique to a language such as TI-83+ BASIC."? Count how many times "read books" or some variation is in that list.

It wasn't moderated or curated. Such pile on "give a pithy answer" was acceptable. And it made the site - trying for the more conceptual and architecture questions that Joel was asking for in his blog post harder to find, and they would get drowned out by the popular fun questions. That lead to https://stackoverflow.blog/2012/01/31/the-trouble-with-popul...

Its not that those aren't interesting questions, its that they are the wrong fit for that format. There are better places to ask for the best programming joke than Stack Overflow and Exchange sites.

And so, with the lack of moderation and curation from the fun days of Programmers.SE a different philosophy of the site was able to establish itself... and the site grew in activity.

The culture of a site is a proof of work. You have to work to maintain it. If there isn't work to do it, it can change. Its probably far to late to change to the less moderated version of the site again. However, if one wants to do that, actively work to curate the site so that those questions are acceptable.

MathOverflow has a fair number of fun and soft questions - but that comes at a lot of work of moderation and curation from the entire community... which they do. The community on other sites that wants those fun and soft questions has not shown as much a desire to curate them, and so others moderate them (not desiring to curate them either).


> Consider https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/4417.... and consider is that useful?

Yes.

> curated?

It's not a worthless question. If you're talking about subjective questions, obsessive curation is not the answer.

> Should "Quit my last job." (entire answer) be there?

Sure, considering there were better answers that had far more votes. It might have been better if it wasn't, and moderation could have taken care of it.

Answers like that are certainly not an indictment of the format.

> Its not that those aren't interesting questions, its that they are the wrong fit for that format. There are better places to ask for the best programming joke than Stack Overflow and Exchange sites.

That's never the kind of think I asked or liked at programmers.se, but like I said before, they threw the baby out with the bathwater.

You haven't really convinced me that subjective questions are "wrong for the format." All you've really shown it that an unmoderated free for all produces some garbage that doesn't fir in a high quality tech Q&A site.

The real answer for why programmers.se failed is probably that the powers-that-be weren't willing to spend the time and resources to meet a new challenge, so they gave up and did something else.


Its not a worthless question. However, its worth is drastically diminished by having so many answers, and so many joke answers in there. That people didn't want to curate it so that the joke answers and duplicate answers are removed and set a standard for providing an answer that is more than one line is why that type of question is closed - it takes too much time for the community that wants to maintain the site to curate it and keep it at a quality that matches the rest of the site.

The format that SE provides is a very direct Q&A that tries to cut out all of the excess and gives a single good answer. There are other sites that are better cut out for polling questions and other sites that do a better job of "what is the best ...?"

Trying to make everything fit in the SE framework puts a burden on the community that moderates and curates the material, and at some point people have said "enough" because they don't want to and others haven't stepped up to do it.

The "wrong for the format" is part of the design of the site. Note here that we're talking in a thread. You can follow the discussion. SE was designed to make discussions awkward. When there's a discussion on a site of significant scale, it becomes unmanageable and detracts from the Q&A focus. If that is a good design decision or a bad one is up to debate - but it is the design decision of SE. And there are so many other places where that discussion could be had. Why not ask that question here? or over on a competing discourse site ( https://www.askquestions.tech was started by April who wrote the post that sparked much of this)?

If Programmers (now Software Engineering) has failed is also up for debate. The name change wasn't so much of a "it failed" but rather "people keep getting the wrong impression of topicality" because yes, it took too much time to keep trying to keep the topic on what the powers that be wanted to moderate and no one else was willing to do the job of curating the content of the larger programmers scope... and after all, they're all volunteers - its really hard to make volunteers volunteer to do something they're not interested in doing.

The name change meta post is at https://softwareengineering.meta.stackexchange.com/questions... (see also the linked questions).


> Software architecture questions

Are you trying to use SO or the Software Engineering site?

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/

They also have a site for software recommendations now, so they created alternative sites for some categories of questions forbidden on SO.

I'm not sure if it hadn't been better to try to integrate it into SO though, using tags for example.


>> I’m in the same boat. 10k rep on SO and softeng.se

It's right there in the parent's text.


Last time this subject came up on Hacker News here, I was inspired to post an idea I came up with after mulling the issue over a bit: mentors. I posted the idea on Meta here:

https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/365720/feature-requ...

Turned out somebody posted the almost exact same idea here almost 3 years earlier:

https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/254205/opt-in-mento...

And StackOverflow even did an experiment with a different implementation last year:

https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/365720/feature-requ...

But while there definitely seems to be a movement afoot to tackle the issue, I can see why you're ready to give up. Look at the comments to my question and you'll find this (with a couple upvotes):

@klenwell 'users who downvote without comment or explanation other new users who have given some obvious attention to the composition of their question' I hear these things often. I don't see them when using SO, nor have I seen any evidence that such a set of users exists, and I have asked for such evidence, many, many times. None has ever been forthcoming. I have concluded that such users do not actually exist.

This after I provided a detailed personal account of this dynamic in action. I mean I guess I could start collecting timestamped screenshots or request the server logs from the Stack Overflow sysadmins. For now, I guess I'll just join the chorus of the disaffected here.


> No one seems to want to change. No one seems to want to even engage with criticism about the culture

No one wants the rules to change in a game that they perceive that they are winning (or have won). Moreso if they worked hard to win.


> No one wants the rules to change in a game that they perceive that they are winning (or have won). Moreso if they worked hard to win.

I'm one of those people who wants the rules to change in a game that I'm already winning. I worked hard to win; I fully engaged in the gamifiction, spending days at a time making sure I hit the max daily rep level, optimizing how I answered questions to get the highest score.

Even then, I tried to focus my optimization on ways that would help people more. For instance, one way to optimize is to post a very short quick answer, so you are able to get early upvotes before there's been a flood of answers for a question; but I would then edit and flesh out my answer. This has both advantages for reputation, since I could get early upvotes, and then later provide a more detailed comprehensive answer that would be likely to get further upvotes. It's also helpful for the person asking; it's possible that the very quick reply will be helpful, so they get an answer soon, but it's also possible that the more detailed reply with references to docs is what they need, so it's a way of making the gamification actually work to help people out more.

I think one of the big problems is when they added gamification of moderation. They added the review queues, which prompt you to review questions and answers that had been downvoted, voted to close, edited by other people, etc, and gave out badges based on numbers of reviews done. This means you'd go through a queue of questions and answers on topics you might know nothing about, and be prompted as for whether or not you agree with someone else's close vote or edit or the like.

When a question is not great, you could just vote to close it, or you could try to engage with the person asking the question and help edit it into a better form. I generally try to talk to the person asking and edit the question to be better; but getting internet points for getting through a lot of reviews quickly incentivizes people to make quick judgements, sometimes on topic they don't know much about. After they added the review queues, I found a lot more questions were being closed before you had a chance to answer or to engage with the person in comments to get them to clarify their question.

And while lots of people these days argue that closing a question is just a way to indicate that it's not up to standards but it can be fixed and re-opened, for people new to SO who aren't familiar with the culture it feels like a slap in the face and a rejection of their question. After a question is closed, it's a lot more likely that they'll just delete it, delete their account, or just stop participating.

Anyhow, yeah, there is an aspect of people not wanting to change the rules of a game that they are playing and winning; I just wish either the incentives were changed, or more people would take the view that the point of the scoring is as a rough measure of how much they are helping people out, and helping people out is the ultimate goal, rather than being an end in itself.

And I should also say that I'm not against closing truly bad or unsalvageable questions; I've had cases where I've tried to engage with someone to make their question better, and they just haven't made any effort, or cases in which people are obviously asking homework questions. But I really think that there should be some effort to help people out with asking their questions before just blindly deciding to close them out.


Yeah fixing this sort of thing is going to require a persistent and unpopular effort from the very top. They'll have to force out people who have contributed huge amounts of time to the community but who are nonetheless causing these issues. There will be a vociferous backlash. The lovey-dovey tone of the OP doesn't necessarily convince me that they have the stomach for it. But I hope they do, because I think it would improve things.


Related to this, I'm sick of the moderators deleting comments and moving discussions to chats on a whim just because they're seeing too many comment. They don't seem to realize they're not helping anybody; they keep doing this as if it's Truth ordered by God.

Like, StackExchange admins: If you're getting flags, there's offensive material, the comments are blatantly off-topic, etc., then OK, I get that; you can step in and moderate. But that's a tiny fraction of the time. When people are having a normal discussion that turns out to be long, maybe don't be a jerk who deletes all the comments from that post and tells people to go somewhere else? It kills the entire discussion, mood, and everyone's enthusiasm, along with lots of gems that were in the comments but that wouldn't fit inside any answers. You really expect the community to turn out happy and welcoming when you keep punching all the breaths out of the users and kicking them to some other corner just because more than 5 of them decided to commit the sin of commenting and sharing thoughts on a topic?


I agree with this -- sometimes the comments are more interesting and informative than the answer. And why is it ordained that "Comments aren't for extended discussion"?

Only a handful of upvoted comments are shown by default, you have to deliberately expand the list to see more, so why not retain them all? If someone wants to wade through 200 commments and add one of his own, what's the real harm? They could add an option for askers/answerers to "Stop notifications for new comments', if that's the issue.


>discussion

Ooooh, You used the d word! Closed because Stack overflow is not for discussion.

What SO needs is a forum - not an ephemeral chat but a forum whose topics can be linked to the questions that people want to discuss.


No, please don't push things out to a forum - few would use a forum and it doubles the pages a searcher has to check to see if they've got the appropriate question/answer.

A lot of the time if there's many comments on a question or answer it's because there's some nuance that needs to be brought out or the answer has limitations etc. Someone arriving from search probably needs and wants to know that - and will take but a moment to decide if the comments look worthwhile enough to expand and read more.

SO displays it well enough technically by only picking out the top 4 or 5 comments. What SO needs is the mods leaving the comments well alone unless they're abusive or spam.


Stack Overflow has had problems with too many comments. In https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/204402/hide-trivial... there is a question about how much comments cost in terms of signal to noise. Do comments make finding good answers further down on the page harder to find? Do they make good answers get less votes?

Note that in that post, everyone who has a diamond after their name is a StackOverflow employee.


One of the reasons SO was created was because programming forums didn't work well enough for Q&A. And I think SO did succeed at doing that.

I don't think tacking on a forum is the right way to make it even better.


> What SO needs is a forum - not an ephemeral chat but a forum whose topics can be linked to the questions that people want to discuss.

That's kind of what Meta is.

https://meta.stackoverflow.com


Mm in my view they don't need a forum, they just need to get out of the way of the community. The tools are all there; they've designed them well. It's just their imposition of arbitrary unhelpful rules that's the problem.


I think you've touched on what's missing that could make it a more personable community--better communication.

I posted an image as a part of an answer once and it was removed with the reason "don't use third party image hosts". Thing is, I used i.stack.imgur.com which is the only method provided in the answer form on the site! I knew the user who did it but since my answer had been deleted, I had no way to contact him for any sort of appeal. It was a while before I tried contributing to the site again.


Same situation as Wikipedia: Absolute power corrupts absolutely - but so does a small, petty amount.


I think it's significant though that both wikipedia and stack overflow, despite being ruled by petty assholes weilding the smallest amount of power in seemingly the stupidest way possible, have become two of the most valuable references in existence.

Do toxic communities produce better content?


I wouldn't say toxic communities produce better content.

I would say heavily moderated ones often do. That's because in general, a community without much in the way of moderation often becomes a wasteland filled with spammers and useless posts and misinformation, as seen on many webmaster forums over the years. If Stack Overflow and Wikipedia are doing well here, it's merely because their assholery has also stopped the SEO merchants and junk peddlers from turning it into Warrior Forums or Wikia.

But that doesn't mean a toxic community is better. It's entirely possible to have a fair, evenly moderated forum with a high level of quality control, as seen on the likes of Ask Historians over at Reddit.

A truly toxic community will eventually die or be replaced, as seen by one I won't name which banned people for making typos or disagreeing with the staff on any topic in history.

Edit: Though I think even this may be a simplification. Basically, a small or niche forum can be extremely relaxed yet still have a high level of quality (see my own Wario Forums site), but it'll have to make a decision between going downhill in terms of quality or becoming harsher on the moderation as it turns into a big board if it doesn't want to become a wasteland.


No, it is not that toxic communities produce better content, it is just the fact that encyclopedic content websites tend to atract borderline autistic people obsessed with some subject who sound like absolute jerks for everybody but themselves.


I am curious as to how Stack Overflow is perceived as toxic.

Name calling of "borderline autistic" and "absolute jerk" would be met with fairly quick community moderation and condemnation there or on Wikipedia. Meanwhile, calling someone autistic as either a pejorative or an insult here (or reddit) is seemingly acceptable and is being defended.


Can you not use autistic as an insult, please?


Dude, I don't. My 5 year old son is in the spectrum and I probably would be diagnosed as well by todays standard. We are lucky enough to be on the high-functional end of the spectrum but it is still taxing on the family. I can't possibly imagine how worst it is for more severe cases and I'm sorry if I offended you but many of my best friends are also borderline autistic and they are the best people I know.


Perception of insult is highly subjective.

Autistic and borderline are barely perceived as positive words in our society so I can follow the argument of insult when you describe wikipedia authors as borderline and autistic. Although I see that you did not mean to do harm with your sociological background.


It doesn't sound like an insult - it sounds just descriptive.


Not according to the linked post, at least:

> Let’s reject the false dichotomy between quality and kindness. Quality matters because it means posts can help more people. But a larger, more diverse community produces better artifacts, not worse ones. We need to stop justifying condescension with the pursuit of quality, and we need better tools and queues to help power users trying to keep quality high.


> Do toxic communities produce better content?

I don't think that's the right way to think about it.

Rather, I would say that tightly-moderated communities of experts tend to produce better reference material ("wikis"). But this type of structure is "toxic" to discussions ("forums") and novices.

The SO founders and key contributors built a wiki. The site's incentive structure pointed in this direction so everyone was complicit in this outcome.

Now, site management seems to be saying that they want a "help-everyone" forum. They are -- like all big orgs with something to lose -- soliciting ideas, forming interdisciplinary committees, and giving "<3"-warming (yuk) speeches.

Given how ingrained the current culture is, I believe that meaningful change would entail significant risk.


> have become two of the most valuable references in existence

Well I'm not sure about that. Wikipedia is the better of the two, but that's a low bar. Articles are poorly written, inconsistent, and targeted at wildly variable levels of existing knowledge. I rarely use it for anything other quick lookups of trivial facts (and even then only for unimportant purposes). It's much-visited, but that's an indicator only of ubiquitous availability. I remember long ago reading some study or other comparing its quality favourably to old-fashioned encyclopedias, but it was just a fairly risible surface fact-checking operation. Of course Wikipedia is huge so there may be vast areas of excellent quality unrelated to my interests.

SO is worse, but a little more useful because of its narrower scope.

So, no, IMO toxicity of community and quality of output aren't related (in either direction).


I can see it the other way too. Good content may lead to certain types of toxic communities. Possibly by encouraging people to police content more in an effort to "keep quality high/from falling", and putting artificially high bars on contributing.


If there is a correlation, it's more likely that the sort of petty asshole who likes to feel important will prefer to invest more effort in a site that is valuable.

So the more valuable a site becomes, the more it will attract highly motivated but slightly sociopathic moderators.


Yes, this seems more likely.

If you create a new website with first 10 toxic users, it will never grow, because they will scare away any potential 11th user.

But if you create a new website with awesome users, it get useful content and grow. When it grows very large and attracts too many users, you will have to start moderating heavily. But moderating a website is an exhausting task, and awesome people usually have other things to do; so gradually the job will be taken by people hungry for some kind of power. Then the site becomes toxic.


> I think it's significant though that both wikipedia and stack overflow, despite being ruled by petty assholes weilding the smallest amount of power in seemingly the stupidest way possible, have become two of the most valuable references in existence.

Wikipedia is quite valuable. These days, I find StackOverflow to be nearly-useless.


What changed to make StackOverflow to be less useful than it was?


Wikipedia and SO are two of the most valuable references in existence because they're the only examples in their niche due to the network effect. I think the toxicity or otherwise of their community environment is independent of that, and it would only change if the experience was sufficiently bad to drive most people to a vastly smaller competitor.


I remember 2002-era Wikipedia. I personally found its openness far more valuable, but then other people became obsessed with making it just a bigger, hyperlinked, traditional encyclopedia. I believe something was lost.


Exactly, Wikipedia was great long before it was toxic, and I don't see the rise of micromanagers on the site to have been that beneficial, certainly not enough to justify the negatives they cause.


> Do toxic communities produce better content?

Personally I think it's just that knowledge-building communities that win the network-effects battle produce good content due to the number of smart and generous people in the world who find out about them, entirely despite their toxicity. But winning the network-effects battle also seems to lead inevitably to toxicity, so we may never have a counter-example non-toxic knowledge-building community to compare to.


I think it does serve as a barrier against all but the most motivated who persist. The digital equivalent of being stuck on the porch at Fight Club.


I would argue there are way too many variables in that question to present a strong argument either way. One thing I will say on it though is how much of our humanity are we ready to sacrifice on the altar of this mythical "meritocracy" that every online community, especially those built on or around code, seems to aim for?

And how long until we're ready to confront the fact that a lot of these meritocracies strangely produce very similar "top contributors" in terms of demographics, i.e. white, straight men?

I'm not getting into either side of it, I'm just saying that you have to admit it's an astonishing coincidence that online communities, started by, moderated by, largely inhabited by, and currently operated by white men seemingly always have a cadre of white men on the top as the "most valuable contributors" and nobody ever seems to wonder if all those things are connected.

Maybe the fears of POC/women are invalid. Maybe it's all a big damn misunderstanding. But I don't think it's right to have white men deciding if it is or not, and I don't think the best damn catalog of coding answers on the planet means a thing if everyone who isn't part of the in-crowd is too damn terrified to ask a question of it.


>One thing I will say on it though is how much of our humanity are we ready to sacrifice on the altar of this mythical "meritocracy" that every online community, especially those built on or around code, seems to aim for?

i don't mean to imply that we should preserve the toxic communities for the point of good content. but there seems to be a correlation here, and it's worth studying what positive effects the toxicity might create, otherwise it's going to be very difficult to re-create it without the toxicity and the sites that value the human creators over the content will always be at a natural disadvantage to the other sites.


I'd imagine you could exploit all kinds of humanities' worse tendencies (in this case, tribalism) and create something that is "better" in some measurements, the real challenge I think is objectively ranking different communities based on the quality of the content in question, and finding how that correlates to whatever, in this case, "tribe" is being used to make it.

IMHO, no problem ever, software related or otherwise has benefited or been solved better by way of having fewer brains involved, and the shortest path to having more brains is having more people, i.e. being more open and inclusive. It would seem to be that SO already has excellent tools to moderate quality without resorting to allowing users to treat each other in such a poor manner.


The article A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy ( http://www.shirky.com/writings/herecomeseverybody/group_enem... ) gets into that a bit.

One of the interesting bits in there is:

> The second basic pattern that Bion detailed: The identification and vilification of external enemies. This is a very common pattern. Anyone who was around the Open Source movement in the mid-Nineties could see this all the time. If you cared about Linux on the desktop, there was a big list of jobs to do. But you could always instead get a conversation going about Microsoft and Bill Gates. And people would start bleeding from their ears, they would get so mad.

Which can be seen in Stack Overflow (its the newbies that don't read that are messing everything up) and reddit (Stack Overflow aka Downvote and Duplicate). Each group is making their group stronger and a more firmer identification by vilifying the other group (merited or not).

This happens in all groups.

--

The "everyone is mean" nature of some of the communities, I believe, comes from further down in the 'three things to accept':

> 2.) The second thing you have to accept: Members are different than users. A pattern will arise in which there is some group of users that cares more than average about the integrity and success of the group as a whole. And that becomes your core group, Art Kleiner's phrase for "the group within the group that matters most."

> The core group on Communitree was undifferentiated from the group of random users that came in. They were separate in their own minds, because they knew what they wanted to do, but they couldn't defend themselves against the other users. But in all successful online communities that I've looked at, a core group arises that cares about and gardens effectively. Gardens the environment, to keep it growing, to keep it healthy.

> Now, the software does not always allow the core group to express itself, which is why I say you have to accept this. Because if the software doesn't allow the core group to express itself, it will invent new ways of doing so.

When the core group lacks the tools necessary to maintain the vision / success of the site as a whole, they are going to find other ways to defend themselves from excessive workload. The easiest way is to be rude to people so they go away (and the overall workload is reduced).

I believe that this pairs with the (misguided?) efforts of Stack Overflow to become more inclusive by lowering barriers to participate (see design for #3) and making it harder for the core group to moderate content (be nice, changing close reasons, removing 10k rep flagging assistance, reducing 15k rep protection ability, a diamond moderator culture of "if it got upvoted it shouldn't be deleted unless there's vote fraud").

--

The entire article is a very interesting read. The author's credentials is also an interesting read - https://www.bloomberg.com/research//stocks/private/person.as... . Check what organizations he's a member of the board at.


>I'm not getting into either side of it, I'm just saying that you have to admit it's an astonishing coincidence that online communities, started by, moderated by, largely inhabited by, and currently operated by white men seemingly always have a cadre of white men on the top as the "most valuable contributors" and nobody ever seems to wonder if all those things are connected.

Of course these things are connected, everything is. It isn't an astonishing coincidence at all, its the exact expected result given the environment.

Why does the color/gender matter? Flip it universally and do you feel the same way?

"When roles are reversed,

opinions are too"


The fights are so big because the stakes are so small. (Also said by Kissinger about Harvard)


And subreddit admins.



I personally very much like SO. I have <1k rep after more than two years of use but it is fine for me. I answer a question maybe 1 time a month and ask maybe 1 time a year.

However a friend of mine (that I believe as a better level in programming than me) has the same feeling of "bizzare community" that you have, so I know that the issue is complex.

That said I really have zero ideas about what they could do to improve the way they are seen by everyone without breaking the way the site currently works.

Have you heard about the term "help vampire" ? Do you know how many people how do not take 3 minutes to search ? Do you think that the number of questions will remain manageable if the bar is leveled down ? Do you know that you are encouraged to edit questions to make them more "well asked" (at least if that is humanely possible) ?

In my opinion SO is a specific tool that is very different from a forum, a chat or a mailing list. SO should not be the only tool that people have to solve their programming problems and it should not try to morph into it.


I wonder if there's a bit of "5 Whys" going on here.

Most of the times I end up on Stack Overflow, I arrive via Google. I usually have to check for around 5 answers before I find one that hasn't been locked as "not constructive" or for some other arbitrary reason.

Is it any wonder that people find it easier to ask their own questions? The name "help vampire" is so telling of how SO mods see themselves (as arbiters and gatekeepers of all that is good against the raging unwashed hordes) and a symptom of the problem.

Don't aspire malice / incompetence to something that may well have a root cause within SO itself.


>(as arbiters and gatekeepers of all that is good against the raging unwashed hordes

Its not untrue though, is it? Its really easy for such communities to really rapidly degrade.

That SO and wikipedia have both retained quality for so long, while also having strict moderators hunting a strong ideal, in areas where so many of their peers have fallen prey to the unwashed hordes, implies that it may not be so easy to discard the strategy.

It might even be necessary at such large volumes. The particulars of their activity might be maleable, but just approaching the problem (very) defensively might bot be.


You do realize that much of wikipedia's success came at a time when the moderation standards were much lower than they are today, right? Indeed, I would suggest that the current high moderation standards at both Wikipedia and SO are not causes of success, but simply a manifestation of the iron law of bureaucracy [1].

People seem to think that duplicate questions are bad and something to be avoided. I think they're a terrific asset. It helps search-ability to have the same question phrased several different ways; especially when the ultimate goal is to funnel the searchers into the discussion page with the highest quality version of the question and answer. In my mind, the issue ISN'T that the mods are holding the gates against the barbarians, it is that the culture and SO itself has not given the mods the tools to convert what the "barbarians" are contributing into a valuable resource.

[1] https://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/iron.html


I'm thinking strict moderation goes hand in hand with size of the population; in low population environments, little to no moderation is sufficient. The people govern their own culture, and with sufficiently low immigration rates, they can adequately teach newcomers the culture.

But as the population increases, driveby-posting becomes the norm rather than the outlier, and large swathes of newcomers can join at once, the culture cannot be taught at a rapid enough pace to survive. It either degrades, or enforces itself by means of an iron fist.

My thinking essentially stems from eternal september. Wikipedia's early success did not require heavy moderation, but once it became the predominant wiki, it's survival, I think, neccitated it.

The details may have issues, but the overarching idea, defending the culture from the unwashed masses, might still be correct.


No, SO has not retained quality. It’s a wasteland of promising questions that moderators turned into dead ends, to the point that finding an SO link relevant to your issue in a Google searches is practically guaranteed to leave you more frustrated than before. It pollutes the troubleshooting process with false hope.


Yeah, a haystack full of needles is better than a single needle in a haystack. That is to say: having the same information repeated tons of times is better than not being able to find the one canonical place the information is written.


Are those the only two options? How about a haystack full of maybe-needles, where each answer is subtly wrong because no one has the willingness to go through and vet all of them?


Simplest thing would be to delist closed questions from search (including Google).


>Most of the times I end up on Stack Overflow, I arrive via Google. I usually have to check for around 5 answers before I find one that hasn't been locked as "not constructive" or for some other arbitrary reason.

Thats kind of the point though isnt it? The idea is that you should find the right question and answer and not the x-th repost of them.

Anyone familiar with the side know why reposts arent simply deleted instead of locked? It seems locking them only worsens the problem they aimed to combat?


Sometimes it's helpful to have a question that's worded differently so that there's multiple ways of finding the answer. And sometimes a duplicate question gets an even better answer than the original before it gets locked.


Also the timing helps a lot in some cases. Not every old and correct answers are updated constantly.


I haven't been active for a long time now so this may have changed.

Back then the reason behind locking rather than deleting was because the duplicate may be asked in a different way, using different keywords. So keeping it viewable allowed people searching for an answer to effectively have multiple entry points into finding the answer because perhaps they were googling the wrong combination of keywords to get the original to show up, but the duplicate would match.


I often come across questions that are closed as being duplicates but are different in some important way that whoever closed it obviously doesn't understand.


I was not thinking of malice / incompetence but simply of laziness. Whatever the problem is it is easier to have people search for you.


The article addresses this nicely. Users not having significant knowledge of the community rules— including but not limited to how close another question must be to your question to be considered a duplicate, how specific the question must be, or how to effectively search for prior questions (“didn’t come up in a google search is probably most people’s standards”)— is not laziness. Even being inexperienced enough to not know how to properly ask a question isn’t laziness, it’s inexperience. Assuming people’s inexperience or unfamiliarity with community norms is laziness is a huge part of the problem.


Is it laziness if a novice has spent hours trying to figure something out and doesn't even know how to ask the question properly because of some fundamental misunderstanding or hole in their knowledge? I see and answer this sort of question on reddit occasionally. I'm sure there are times where I've dashed out "You're totally barking up the wrong tree, try ..." while I'm waiting for my code to build and saved somebody several(more) hours of hair pulling frustration.


Oh my god, I looked up "help vampire" and it's so insightful and true. I've noticed this kind of behavior on Quora especially.


> Suddenly another, even higher ranking person, deleted all the comments and locked my answer, noting that the discussion had stopped being productive. After that, my answers were left alone with no more meta criticism.

I can't see from your story if the "even higher scoring person" ever declared his intentions to you, which he probably should, but it can be a pretty routine moderation action on forum sites in general to remove meta comments not contributing to the original question, after that discussion has been had.

In your story I could as well read that the lower rank moderator was told off about his interventions.


The "even higher scoring person" was definitely a moderator, only they have the power to delete comments and lock posts.


Yeah it's a weird mix of helpful content moderated by an irritating hall monitor like community wielding power and making changes nobody wants.

I've been frustrated when trying to contribute - you'll have two people helping each other and then some third party comes in and declares it not valuable, incorrectly says something is a duplicate, or starts deleting things for arbitrary reasons.

I just want the moderators to go away and leave us alone, it also makes me think stack overflow is successful in spite of this - not because of it.


But the goal of SO is not for you two to have a chat - it's to produce quality questions and answers for future visitors. When SO's moderation team does its job well, you only see them "harassing" you. When they don't, you google your question and get vague, poorly-worded questions answered by incorrect one-liners. SO's moderation is an effort to balance three parties with conflicting interests:

- the people asking questions just want a solution for their specific problem, which may or may not be useful to SO. This can include homework problems, RTFM problems, vague and unclear questions, etc.

- the people answering questions want interesting questions that stimulate them to keep using the site. SO really needs those people to feel happy answering questions, otherwise no one will visit the site! You need experts providing quality answers, who can find something interesting.

- the people visiting the site after-the-fact. Those people are (usually) just googling a problem they have, but aren't willing to commit to a question. They need both the questioners and the answerers to have done their jobs, otherwise either the questions are too poor a quality to be sure it's the same problem, or the answers are too poor quality to be of use to them.

To all those groups, effective SO moderation looks antagonistic, because they wouldn't go to the site if it had awful moderation - it would just be "that useless place where no one answers your questions and you keep getting the same question over and over".


> I just want the moderators to go away and leave us alone, it also makes me think stack overflow is successful in spite of this - not because of it.

You can use the chat site, message them directly (if their contact information is listed) or anything else you like to help someone with a useless/duplicate/beginner/help-vampire-ey question. You just aren't allowed to do it inside the reputation system to mine these kinds of answers for karma, and aren't allowed to do it inside the wiki system so you don't pollute the results of searches.


I think it is rare for a person to change its bullying behaviour. What SO should do is to review interactions and then remove all users demonstrating toxic behaviour and prevent them from registering again unless they can prove they successfully completed therapy.


Let me present you other side of the story. I have been user of SO and significant level contributor for as long as it’s been there. Virtually every day there is onslaught of people asking questions that are trivially answerable by simple search or not well formed or not even legibly written. Everyday lot of people end up spending their time in answering these rathar than focusing on questions that are far more worth their time. You may say, well, leave it up to folks to what they want to answer. The problem is that it doesn’t work that way. Spammy question often ends up overwhelming limited screen space and good questions gets buried like a needle in the haystack. Even worse, lot of people go after trivial stuff just to get more points. Even more worse people who ask bad questions get encouraged to keep doing same things. You can see where this is going.

In nutshell, current system is not ideal but it has been put in place after lots of thoughts. No one is going to disagree with being more respectful and kind however the solution to this problem is much more of a technical challenge.


> Spammy question often ends up overwhelming limited screen space and good questions gets buried like a needle in the haystack.

This is one of the issues with SO. I'd love to find a good question. I'd be happy to spend some time on it and learn something. But instead there are lots of questions about why the guessing game doesn't wait for input the second time, what's this syntax error, why doesn't this "if" work. Questions that will maybe help one person, but could be deleted immediately afterwards and nobody would notice.

I don't even know what's the answer. Maybe a canonical "this is how you debug an if statement which doesn't work" or other topic answer would help. Maybe not.


> I'd love to find a good question. I'd be happy to spend some time on it and learn something.

You can sort by most upvoted unanswered questions.

https://stackoverflow.com/unanswered/tagged/?tab=votes


I have had similar issues on this site. I have had 3 high rep users of the site close a question I asked having never answered a single question in the technology I was referencing. That said I have never felt that because I was not white I was treated differently, how would anyone even know that? I guess they could go look for a profile picture before they answer?

If you have people doing that then there is a much bigger issue then what has been described by the EVP. My experience in general has been that there are a segment of users on StackOverflow that think they are better than everyone else and take every little opportunity they can to impress upon the rest of us how great they are in their own little world.


> That said I have never felt that because I was not white I was treated differently, how would anyone even know that? I guess they could go look for a profile picture before they answer?

> If you have people doing that then there is a much bigger issue then what has been described by the EVP.

Probably why the comments are disabled on that blog post. Doesn't want anyone pointing out the disconnects from reality.


> I have had 3 high rep users of the site close a question I asked

I have some mod privileges on SO and have been a user for ~8 years.

The best way to not have your question locked or deleted, is to ensure you're following the best practices for asking a question and include a Minimum Complete Verifiable Example (MCVE).

https://stackoverflow.com/help/how-to-ask

If you feel you've done both and still don't get a good experience, it's worth speaking out on Meta for more specific advice.

Most people on SO just want to help — it's easier to help on a question that meets these standards.

> having never answered a single question in the technology I was referencing

Moderator privileges are more about the style of a question/answer than the specifics of a particular tech. The moderation queues are irrespective of the tech tagged in the question.


I've never had a question closed, but do have to agree with JPGalt that there is a problem. A lot of power is vested in high-rep users who got to high rep by making lots of snap judgments. In the Qt tag, I frequently encountered high rep C++ developers guessing at answers. They knew the language, but were unfamiliar with the library and would make guesses at how things work. Then other C++ developers browsing the front page would upvote their answer because it sounded right (even if it was completely incorrect).

It's mildly annoying when wrong answers get voted up, but it's even more annoying when moderation tools are used that way. This new user got screwed over by high-ranking close voters who didn't actually read the question: https://stackoverflow.com/q/49847677/331041


That's an interesting point. I mostly answer in Python, HTML, and CSS, and haven't seen this happen over there.

It reminds me of when SO added the feature to make front-end code snippets in answers runnable. Perhaps an evolution of that is to provide the equivalent for backend code. Do you think this would solve the voting problem you described?

To the linked question - Do you know if it's possible to undo a "mark as dupe"?


It is possible to reopen, but it requires 5 voters with >3k rep to do so, or one voter with a gold badge for the tag.


> That said I have never felt that because I was not white I was treated differently, how would anyone even know that?

People extrapolate from names. ESPECIALLY if your name sounds indian.


What names? You do extrapolate from the bad English. Loads of Indians using UK-sounding names and UK woman names.


I had a similar experience recently with a question I had answered years ago. A highly ranked user came in, complained in a comment about the fact I linked to documentation instead of copy pasting the docs into the answer then downvoted me causing a loss of 2 karma. I reported the comment because it was ridiculous this person is scanning questions which are years old to try and find things to nitpick.

I'm not sure if they removed the comment or if some other moderator did, but it was gone within a couple of days. My karma loss remained. It's absolutely ridiculous over there sometimes and these sorts of interactions are one of the big reasons I stopped participating.


The best practice in this case is to edit your answer to include the docs as well as the link, so the next user can find the answer in one place, preserved even when external links inevitably break, change, or disappear over time.

A good citizen would remove their downvote after you did that.

A better citizen would have just made the edit themselves to help everyone.


There's a delicate balance for moderators to achieve and I don't envy them.

Some questions are clearly daft, the person hasn't done any prior research, the question is vague, the problem is not apparent and it's a big waste of time trying to help. These questions are often shut down mercilessly and I think that's probably the best thing for them, but I've no doubt it's a terrible experience for the guy asking the question. I think the SO blog post addressed it pretty well by outlining a more streamlined question form with clear prompts for each part of the question.

Other questions are not daft, but perhaps are not asked well. They need to be edited, re-framed, boiled down to the essential parts, an example included, the expected output included, that sort of thing. It's tiresome to run into questions like this over and over, and I can understand how people might comment out of frustration, but it's good to prompt the OP to fix their question up so it can (and probably will) be answered well. Kid gloves and kindness are important here, it's not always easy to ask a good question. The SO blog post went a long way to addressing this and I look forward to seeing some changes on the site.

Overall I think SO is a fantastic resource with many amazing contributors, so it's good to see them responding to this problem and I hope they can make it even better.


You have a reasonable reply by nookoking, but you probably can't see it because he's banned.

nookoking, if you see this, maybe mail the mods. I have no idea why you'd be banned, your history looks fine, but all but your very first post are dead.


They also outright get rid of questions that people provide good and helpful answers to. I once asked a question about a specific ML technique in regards to implementing in a specific c++ API. Higher ups said that the question was far too broad and against the guidelines, despite receiving at least 5 good answers to my questions before they got to it. They effectively shut up good conversation for the sake of a rule book they probably didn't write.


I think it's a natural reaction to dislike questions that are asked without much attention to detail, contain spelling mistakes (often in the headline), don't use code formatting or otherwise make it more difficult to understand.

Note that these problems may not make answering the question impossible. If, for example, the headline/question is "How do I do this???", then you can still answer, provided the body is more specific.

But such a meaningless title makes it harder to spot the question in lists when you're searching, or willing to answer questions.

That's bad for the usefulness of SO, and moderators and other users who have spent a lot of time on the site may notice such problems far more than you do when first visiting it.


The right answer to this is to edit the question: fix the formatting, write a good title and select a good set of tags.

I feel that if I do this, maybe the questioner will learn from the edits for their future questions. And even if they don't, at least I've made the question potentially valuable for other people coming along later, which is the main point.


With all due respect, but this kind of report is pretty useless to the rest of us without any context. A link to the question and a copy of your deleted answer at least. It's not like every single complaint is valid - plenty of people complain whose treatment seems entirely justified. There are plenty of useless answers that SO has to deal with.


It is a bizarre system, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised about the community it shaped.

The ways to get points combined with the way moderation powers slowly flow from them in this gamified rigid hierarchy is not a common approach. Only allowing a specific type of social interaction (objective questions whose answer(s) are of interest to many). It is weird.

I think it is really interesting that the community isn't much worse. At that scale and, lets be honest, with programmers giving programming advice? Why is that? Which of those aspects can be borrowed for other stuff?


While I haven't experienced this personally, Meta exists to facilitate discussions like what you're describing.

https://meta.stackoverflow.com

It's also worth noting that those who can lock discussions can also edit questions without approval (and others can with approval), so it's worth pushing back on editing the question into being "answerable", admittedly a non-binary state.


This is one of the issues called out in the original post.

And little makes me sadder than comments on answers saying, “Don’t answer questions like this – it encourages them.”


It is run by humans after all. Some of these humans, even in their high ranking are just that, humans. I usually avoid those types as they sometimes have an axe to grind and want to take it out on "underlings". My rep is high enough anyway there that those types are just pathetic.


Same! I'm definitely qualified to answer some of the questions and for some reason actually willing to do so but totally gave up investing my time in doing so after a couple of similar experiences.


I can comment on this from the "other side" since I have discussed this on meta.

The problem is that answering questions which are borderline low quality/too specific, etc or need imorovement before it can be answered are usually frowned upon because it encourages the asker to ask more low quality questions.

The abuse you got is not OK though. If I comment at all on such questions it is always polite.

What I think is also a big oroblem is closing questions as duplicates which are not duplicates.

As with every system I think the incentives are the culprit so I expect SO to improve on this soon. They should be able to since they have all the data to do so


Why do "low quality" questions matter? I don't believe "low quality" is really a problem.

Stack Exchange could have dealt with this by developing a mechanism for identifying and promoting general and well-written questions to search engines, and so on.

People sometimes have specific or incompletely formulated questions, and people sometimes enjoy figuring out answers to those questions.

By stamping on these situations, Stack Exchange quickly removed almost all of its potential contributor base.


> Why do "low quality" questions matter?

As I have said it encourages additional low quality questions which is more work for the mods.


> As I have said it encourages additional low quality questions which is more work for the mods.

"low quality" question could just be marked as such and kept mostly unmodorated. By marking them there is also an incentive to produce "high quality" questions. You could also make badges and reputation around it so asking good questions gets more rewarding.

Also, answering those "low quality" can really help the asker to understand his problem better and improve his problem solving ability, so maybe the next time he can provide better information in his question.

If you just close the question and tell people to go away you will just scare people off (which btw also leads to a smaller number of mods)


That seems to be the way it goes, at first.You basically need to visit the site every day and vote while editing typos and fixing other peoples mistakes.


This is one of the things we've pointed out for years:

A lot of SOers seems to enjoy moderation a lot more than answering questions.

Unfortunately they even do get in the way of the rest of us.


Seems to me like many communities end up being like that.

The extreme is some open source projects, in my experience.


This is just a virch to appear on board with wider trends in the community, and addressing the issue you raised give StackOverflow no more recognition, advertising revenue, or standing in the community.


> Too many people experience Stack Overflow¹ as a hostile or elitist place

True. There's definitely an elitist undertone at Stack Overflow, and the voting system has a huge effect on that...

> especially newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups.

But this isn't true. No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow unless they explicitly announce it, and generally my perception seems to be a disdain towards newer members in general, not ones from any particular group.

Trying to make this about minorities feels like a desperate attempt to fit in with the 'social justice' sphere, and to virtue signal to people on sites like Twitter.

Still, the rest of the article seems fairly sane, and I guess this point stands out above all:

> Let’s reject the false dichotomy between quality and kindness

Because at the end of the day, we need to kill the 'brilliant jerk' archtype already. No, most intelligent people are not Dr House or Rick from Rick and Morty, and we shouldn't make the assumption that a community has to tolerate that sort of behaviour in order for it to be good. Moderate the community well, stop tolerating jerks because they're 'smart' and fix your voting systems, and Stack Overflow can easily become a great community to be part of again.


> But this isn't true...

You completely missed this point. To quote the article:

> Many people, especially those in marginalized groups do feel less welcome. We know because they tell us.

Hanlon doesn't claim to know why the marginalized groups feel unwelcome. He doesn't even claim that the root cause is a bias of action -- conscious or subconscious -- on the part of SO's users or staff. What he said was these groups report at a higher than average rate the feeling of being unwelcome. That is a simple fact, and can only be dismissed at the cost of saying those people's opinions are not worth addressing. Acknowledging it, saying "maybe if we get creative we can improve it", is not virtue signaling, it's the most fundamental requirement to:

> shift from “don’t be an asshole” to “be welcoming.”


What he said was these groups report at a higher than average rate the feeling of being unwelcome

As a non-white I call shenanigans. My non-whiteness is very obvious in my SO profile pic and not once in 8 years of active use of the site has it ever come up, nor have I perceived being treated any differently. Also, no one ever asked me if I felt “unwelcome” nor is there a button to click for that, so I don’t know where this really comes from...


Else-net, there was a theory put out that if one feels marginalized already, then the perception of "Stack Overflow doesn't want my question, they down voted it because it lacks any code" is evidence of that marginalization even though its directed at everyone.


This seems likely. If you are mistreated for a given reason, you would likely attribute mistreatment elsewhere to having the same cause, and given that would be ones first impression of mistreatment, even with evidence that the mistreatment is for another more broader issue, people will likely contribute the mistreatment to the original reason they were mistreated in the first area. It is similar to making a bad first impression; it takes a lot more effort to correct a bad first impression than to maintain a good first impression.


With Stack Overflow, its also important to remember the 0th impressions of people finding the site through google.

Finding material that is off topic but preserved for some reason is often cited as a negative experience. The "I searched for XYZ and it was closed as not constructive" (note: not constructive hasn't been a valid close reason for several years).

This brings up the question of "should that material be findable on Stack Overflow if people are having such poor experiences when finding it?" and "are people finding the closed questions of yesteryear a disincentive to participate today?"

The finding things closed as a duplicate sign post isn't working as intended with redirecting them to the proper question - because when there is an answer to the question (that may or may not properly answer it) it prevents the logged out user from getting redirected to the duplicate.


You got this exactly wrong:

The negative experience is that the interesting/useful questions/answers aren't rewarded.

It's bad that they are closed with harsh and false ("not constructive" on some of the most useful question there was...). It would be even worse if they were entirely removed so we couldn't find the answer.


Being treated exactly the same as everyone else is concrete evidence of non-marginalisation, in my book - and what everyone claims to want


> > Many people, especially those in marginalized groups do feel less welcome. We know because they tell us.

This particular argument is really bad IMHO. OP has a point - nobody knows who you are. That means if some people feel they are treated worse it is due to their own perception. After all, objectively they are not treated worse then everybody else. Which to me sounds more like a bias in their perception. They may have that perception for a reason, but that does not seem to me to be something attributable to SO.


People are not claiming they are being treated worse than less marginalised people. They’re claiming they themselves do not feel welcome. It’s definitely all about perception, but that doesn’t mean it’s invalid.


[flagged]


Is that a bias, or simply a different viewpoint than yours? Why are you going to so much effort to chase down the external postings of another HN user?


> What he said was these groups report at a higher than average rate the feeling of being unwelcome. That is a simple fact

Is it a fact? I'd like to see the evidence behind that claim, so I asked for that: https://meta.stackoverflow.com/q/366692/41071.


> We know because they tell us.

But not marginalized groups also tell them. Now the question is who tells more? I think marginalized, because they read all these blogs and tweets about being opressed, shift their selective focus to minor injustices, and feel empowered to complain. The SJWs are the complainers, they are the warriors, that's why you hear from them more than from anybody else. They have the momentum of complaining, so they are more likely to continue to complain. I'm certain most of them are addicted to complaining and will never stop, no matter what. Also, minorities have higher social status within those ranks, and therefore more likely to be SJW.

So it's not necessarily Stack Overflow's fault at all.


The only information we have from the blog post is that Stack Overflow has survey results telling them that marginalized groups feel particularly unwelcome, unless you have some other source of info I didn't notice.

From that single datum, you've concluded that this is because marginalized groups must over-complain, and in fact, you claim to have achieved perfect certainly that most members of marginalized groups have an addiction to complaining and will never stop, and therefore the only sensible course is to completely disregard any survey results saying that marginalized groups feel particularly bad about anything.

That's a pretty strong conclusion from hearing about a brief allusion to the results of a survey you didn't see. Your argument says a lot about you and very little otherwise.


Alternatively, assuming good faith, he claims that this is a possible explanation, and that perhaps Hanlon fell victim to the very common base rate fallacy on his off-hand comment.


Or Simpson’s Paradox


"I don't understand the problems you face so clearly it's just you making up shit."

That's an anstoundingly lack of emapthy and self-awareness. Also extra points for the unironic use of SJW.


Totally agree. While I do think “newer coders” may very likely feel unwelcome, as an extension of the elitism issue, there’s no mechanism by which “people of color”, “women”, or “minorities” can even be identified... I fear people are subconsciously correlating these groups with “less able coders”. Obviously this correlation serves only to damage.


> there’s no mechanism by which “people of color”, “women”, or “minorities” can even be identified

That's a legit question: If people don't even know what gender you are/what color your skin is, can they actually be intentionally racist/sexist towards you?

Which makes me wonder if the actual wrong turn we took was making social media as prevalent as it is today. 20 years ago people on the www were really careful about sharing personal details. People liked their anonymity, there was equality in anonymity! Personal details were only exchanged with those deemed trustworthy enough after enough positive interaction.

But these days anonymity is nearly criminalized, while in some circles open self-display on social media is borderline worshipped as it has become the modern equivalent of "making it big on TV".

Somewhere in there is a relation between crappy TV casting shows, which most people only watch to see jurors be mean to the applicants, and social media. Nowadays social media are our modern TV casting shows and everybody can participate in being the nasty juror putting applicants down.

Note: I know that Stack Overflow ain't considered social media, but these days it feels like these dynamics are pretty much prevalent everywhere.


I was just thinking the same thing recently with all of the Facebook shenanigans. Anonymity was common sense on the net 20 years ago. Many who grew up in that time will recognise the sentence "We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias". The dream of the net was a world in which only words mattered.

We sold that out when our Github account, SO profile, email address proved to be useful for finding jobs or improving our social status.


Facebook is especially strange in that regard.

To this day it just feels weird writing people, I only know from the meatspace (friends&family), there. It's such an utterly different MO compared to my usual Internet-interactions that I sometimes struggle how to express myself just because I actually know these people.

That's why I kinda liked having the Internet and meatspace firmly separated, since they started bleeding into each other it feels like everything has just gotten needlessly more complicated and hostile.


re: If people don't even know what gender you are/what color your skin is, can they actually be intentionally racist/sexist towards you?

Hmm, why do you think intentionally is important in that sentence?

It wouldn't surprise me at all if making the site unfriendly towards newcomers affected minorities more. That seems... bad? And if so, anonymity wouldn't fix it.

It's funny how being results-oriented seems to be counterintuitive to many people whenever a discussion touches on morality. Somehow the issue of good intentions (or lack thereof) overrides everything else.


> If people don't even know what gender you are/what color your skin is, can they actually be intentionally racist/sexist towards you?

Not directly, but often indirectly since in such a situation it is common to assume you are a white male. That's a bit off-putting if you are not one, but you might put up with it rather than clarifying your gender/race if doing so opens you up to a risk of direct sexism/racism


I’m not even sure what to say to that.

Other people assuming you are like them and treating you the SAME as they would treat all the other SO members is literally the outcome we want isn’t it? We’re being treated equally.

But now people are being offended because they aren’t being treated differently based on information the other parties don’t have?

What?


What “we” want is a bunch of kinda aligned stuff to accomplish reasonably similar goals.

I don’t think SO wants people to treat people the same by starting with the assumption that I am like you. I think they want the opposite. I think they want you to stop assuming things about the person you’re talking to altogether, and start baking that caution into your interactions.


Try inverting your thinking - how would you like it if the only way you can get treated with respect is to allow others to assume you are something you are not? Its textbook alienation.

On SO its likely not as bad as the rest of the net, but it'd be naive to assume its perfect: harassment aside, I imagine obviously female commentators get a hefty dose of mansplaining thrown their way


> how would you like it if the only way you can get treated with respect is to allow others to assume you are something you are not?

Fair enough if you call people out when they know something about the person they're interacting with. But you're suggesting people are prejudiced because they thought the wrong thing.


How would you treat a white male differently from any other demographic on a technical forum?

This identity politics bullshit is an anti-intellectual cancer. Truth is universal, race, gender, etc have nothing at all to do with it.


I use my initial on SE to conceal my gender, and I am usually assumed to be male in third-person references.


Does that matter on a site like SO? I usually use “they” not to assume gender, but does it really bother you if someone assumes male?


Don't know about others, but for me the answer is: A little bit. Not a huge amount, not because someone on the internet got it wrong. But because it is a reminder that I basically have to try and hide my gender on a huge part of the internet to not be harassed. I already have to stay away from LinkedIn unless I am applying for a job due to guys thinking it is a dating site. I have to pick ambiguous usernames that don't hint at gender. I occasionally have to throw an account away on a site.

It bothers me that I basically have to pretend to be a dude on most of the internet because of assholes.


That’s a pretty sad tale. I cannot even presume what that’s like.


> It bothers me that I basically have to pretend to be a dude on most of the internet because of assholes.

At least on the Internet, you can pretend, in the meatspace, you simply can't.

I also wouldn't call these people assholes, it might be convenient but imho it's needlessly vilifying people for simply behaving like they are expected to and how they've behaved for the longest time.

Because for the longest time, and in most places to this day, males are expected to initiate contact, if they are interested in a relationship with a female.

Now, one could argue that's outdated and "sexist", but that doesn't change the fact that large parts of our societies (and our behavior) are still shaped by these expectations. It's not that people want to be assholes, people simply don't want to be alone and for the longest time, the most common and accepted solution for that was for males to initiate contact and woo the females.

Sadly this is an angle on all this that too often gets ignored in favor of some simplified narrative where all these guys are just a bunch of misogynists who consider women their property or something like that. While these types do exist too, it just feels dishonest to frame this whole issue like that.

Because as a male the reality of the situation pretty much boils down to this: You are either proactive and approach people or... you stay alone. I'm not trying to dramatize here, I'm just trying to point something out that seems to be largely ignored in these kinds of discussions.

Not everybody is a socialite who constantly meets new people without any effort, heck for the longest time we've been told that female brains are explicitly better at socializing that than male brains (or is that considered sexist now too?). So what are males supposed to do in this situation? Just sit tight until a female approaches them? That's pretty much a "forever alone" sentence for the vast majority of males.

That's why at some point for many males this becomes a simple issue of game theory: You can't meet new females without approaching new females, the more new females you approach the higher the likelihood that you will end up with one of them.

As sad and sterile as it might sound, in the end, it often just boils down to "trying often enough" and it's been that way for the longest time and I'm pretty certain this is engrained in our nature to a certain degree. Millions of years of behavioral evolution don't just vanish in a matter of years.


Yeah, kind of. True or not, I feel the assumption is that if I ask a sensible question or give a good answer, I must be a guy. I don't bother to correct, given the environment, so the stereotype is reinforced. But at the same time, I do want that gender ambiguity so I am treated as an equal. It's a funny catch-22.

"They" is a good compromise.


I should note that on several sites this isn't particularly true - for example, on Academia.SE it's pretty easy to know/guess and the questions are often about these marginalized groups.

...and when they make Hot Network Questions, the influx of people from Stack Overflow is highly correlated with an immediate drop in the quality of answers and essentially the ruination of the question, to the point that several high rep users, myself included, have asked if we could opt out of HNQ as a concept.


Of course there are mechanisms. For example it is super easy to tell if an asker is indian, by their name. And often women chose names that allow a good guess. Other hints may also be contained in the name. Then there is the profile image, and of course the bio. And lastly, often the question itself can contain details that hint at things.

Yes, people can hide these characteristics, but they shouldn't need to.


> there’s no mechanism by which ... “women” ... can even be identified

_No_ mechanism? Seriously? How about when the user is named "Jane Smith"? Or, heaven forbid, they actually use a PROFILE PICTURE with their ACTUAL FACE. Oh god the horror!

I, as a white male with a caucasian sounding name have the privilege of being able to use my actual name on the internet. Women that want to be taken seriously don't even have that choice.

Sure over time women figure out that anonymizing their gender online is a wise strategy, but how many brand new programming-enthusiasts are going to learn this when they have negative first experiences on the most popular Q&A platform for programmers? How many never return to contribute because of those negative experiences?

It's no wonder you can't go to SO and find women, they either aren't contributing or they have effectively hidden themselves among the ranks of the men.


What is a "caucasian sounding name"? Do Zurab, Zahar, Zivadin, Zora or Artem sound like caucasian male names to you?


Yea, I am fairly certain I'm bastardizing the use of the word "caucasian" here. What I mean is that people with the name "Cory Klein" on their SO profile likely get treated differently than "Mohammud Bin Salmen" or "Lacey Richards".


meh. Loads of Asians pretending to be white women to see if they get away with more attention. Often in a while when they take photos we even see the reflection of the actual guy. They are have probably more "discrimination" for the bad questions than for being a "woman".


> But this isn't true. No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow unless they explicitly announce it, and generally my perception seems to be a disdain towards newer members in general, not ones from any particular group.

Why would you say this with such conviction when you don't know anything about what the team is doing behind the scenes? They do yearly surveys that do include things like culture / minority status as well as questions about inclusion.

I can't help but feel like this is just another white male majority site jumping to shut down this type of discussion before it even starts.


100% this. To say that the author of the post — whose job includes knowing whether women and minorities feel particularly unwelcome or not, based on actual data and talking to them — must have invented this point is rather outlandish. Based on what?

An online community can’t possibly be less welcoming to women, for example... because it has screen names? Because people don’t express open disdain for women like they do for newbies? You don’t have to be an expert on this stuff to know not to rush to hasty conclusions, especially in the face of evidence.


> To say that the author of the post — whose job includes knowing whether women and minorities feel particularly unwelcome or not, based on actual data and talking to them — must have invented this point is rather outlandish. Based on what?

Based on the fact that he did not share a bit of that data or any other kind of evidence. That's especially jarring on the Stack Overflow Blog, which is full of posts that are nothing but data.

It does not necessarily mean that there is no data, but it does make me suspicious.


There was no evidence shown, though. That almost certainly means it doesn't exist. Maybe they do know that most programmers fit a particular stereotype (white/asian man), but that isn't because other people find stackoverflow "unwelcoming".


> There was no evidence shown, though. That almost certainly means it doesn't exist.

OK, using that reasoning, what evidence do you have to support your statements? What evidence do you have that supports the reasoning quoted above?


> Trying to make this about minorities feels like a desperate attempt to fit in with the 'social justice' sphere, and to virtue signal to people on sites like Twitter.

I'd rather look at the merits. If I recognize a good idea, I'm going to signal that I'm on board with it, so virtue signaling in itself is, at worst, a bit gauche.

The reason I'd avoid making these things about social justice is that it's very hard to show that social justice as a concept actually works to promote comity. When you put things in terms of oppressor and victim, you deepen divisions rather than heal them. When you search for reparations and retribution, you have to harm people.


After most of human history, humanity has achieved are astounding, world-changing successes in human rights (including democracy, liberty, etc.), civil rights, women's rights, etc.

I see the above as just an argument to do nothing, usually (I can't speak about the parent's motives) made by the enemies of justice, such as the white supremacists, to suit their agenda.


I agree that it can deepen divisions, but ignoring the issue doesn't make it go away. Not sure what to do.


Yeah, putting groups over the individual and dividing the world into oppressed vs oppressor is problematic to say the least.

Jordan Peterson is a good resource on this - he's studied it extensively and talks about it a lot. I'd recommend watching his lectures to anyone interested in learning about it.


>> Let’s reject the false dichotomy between quality and kindness

> Because at the end of the day, we need to kill the 'brilliant jerk' archetype already.

We need to recognize that everyone shifts significantly towards the autistic side of the spectrum when they're online. You're looking at text, and trying to infer emotion from words, and do it quickly. That people are as good as they are reflects a fairly amazing amount of patience from the average person.

These "jerks" that we're going to brand intolerable and kick out are probably fairly decent people.

Honestly, most moderation systems would benefit hugely from a simple "please rewrite this post" feature.


> But this isn't true. No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow unless they explicitly announce it, and generally my perception seems to be a disdain towards newer members in general, not ones from any particular group.

Almost everyone on SO uses a variation of their real name. I suspect you are a smart enough person to know that that is far more than enough to engage in racial and sexual discrimination.


> Almost everyone on SO uses a variation of their real name. I suspect you are a smart enough person to know that that is far more than enough to engage in racial and sexual discrimination.

Note: A significant chunk of them, yes, but not almost everyone, as far as I know. Looking just at the front page right now, out of the 96 users, I see 7 users whose name begins with "user" (like "user2141351"), at least 13 who have names like "xyz" or "NRA" or "SSB" or "BmyGuest" or "saladi" etc... that's at least 20% of my sample.


Not the point. It isn't that SO is meaner to marginalized people because SO knows who they are. It's that marginalized people are more sensitive to being excluded, and less likely to voluntarily endure the hazing.


On point.


> But this isn't true. No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow unless they explicitly announce it, and generally my perception seems to be a disdain towards newer members in general, not ones from any particular group.

I understand what you're saying, and while you're correct, it doesn't change the fact about how people feel in a community.

There are really two groups here: newer coders, and marginalized groups within our profession.

Newer coders are less confident, and when you see the types of responses you see on SO, you're less likely to want to participate - nobody likes being told that they're stupid or not working hard enough, as an example.

For marginalized groups - primarily women, people who aren't white, and the LGBT communities, they already have to deal with sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination in their daily lives. When you have to worry about hostility in general, trying to participate in a community that does have a reputation to being hostile is even more difficult and frustrating. The fact that you don't know who an SO user is unless they volunteer the information simply doesn't matter.

> Trying to make this about minorities feels like a desperate attempt to fit in with the 'social justice' sphere, and to virtue signal to people on sites like Twitter.

This isn't about trying to make it only about minorities, and the post doesn't give that impression. It is, however, about making sure that everyone feels welcome, and that has to include thinking about and understanding WHY minorities aren't feeling welcome, even if there isn't explicit discrimination against them on the site.


>> especially newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups.

>But this isn't true.

What do you make of their statement that "Many people, especially those in marginalized groups do feel less welcome. We know because they tell us."?


I think the idea is that someone who feels less secure in their place in the programming community may be more powerfully affected by the same level of hostility than a nerdy middle-class white guy who grew up in gamer/internet culture and feels it’s his birthright. It takes a certain sense of entitlement to continue to participate in a community that rebukes you.


No. Entitlement would be to expect a community not to rebuke you despite the fact that you're breaking their guidelines and posting low quality content.


That's not the flip side, that's literally what I'm saying. To stick with the internet programming community after i.e. getting your StackOverflow question curtly dismissed requires a level of confidence that not everyone has.


I'd call it humility rather than confidence.


Absolutely not. The humble thing to do is to correctly interpret the signal that you are not welcome, and leave.


On StackExchange, it's not "you" that isn't welcome, it's low quality content that is unwelcome. The humble thing to do when having been rebuked for posting low quality content is to accept the criticism and improve yourself. Expecting to be treated like a valued member of the community even though you posted some garbage is entitlement.


I take it you've never been an outsider in any community you've been forced to be a part of.


Are you a new coder who is female and in a marginalized group?

Given your astonishingly ignorant response, I can bet dollars to donuts that you are not.


> No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow unless they explicitly announce it,

Stack Overflow allows people to use photographs in their profile.

You're saying that women and POC are not allowed to be themselves. That they cannot use features everyone else is free to use. That they must lie about who they are in order to participate on the Internet


> > especially newer coders, women, people of color, and others in marginalized groups.

> But this isn't true. No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow unless they explicitly announce it,

They don't say it out in the open, they contact the SO admins directly or through surveys.


But how would you know about reactions to genre, skin color or other group if they weren't mentioned in the first place? And in that case why mention them at all on SO of all sites ? Or maybe it was about Perl coders? Be kind with them please.


My guess is that although you don't know the race/gender of the person there's a chance that they'll use a different questioning style. More senior/regular users then frown upon this different style not necessarily because they're being racist/sexist just because they don't like the way the question was asked.


Well, in that case you might as well include non-native english speakers.


I'm guessing the point here is that the named groups feel particularly unwelcome at SO; this can be the case without any opportunity for or evidence of discrimination. The blog post wasn't all that clear about how they got the data, but they seem to have data to that effect. It might mean that the expectations of the named groups are different from those of the average white male programmer, or it may only mean that everyone is put off by SO equally but SO is no longer willing to alienate everyone if it also means alienating the named groups.


I think the point was that the people being mean don't know the gender, color, etc. of who they're being mean to.


Look at it from the other side. The person who is getting mean comments tells someone at SO about it (maybe via a survey). Then the SO admins notice that in the surveys women are overrepresented in the population of "people who complain about hostility".

Perhaps minorities already get enough abuse and hostility every day on meatspace, so they are less tolerant of even minor hostility over the Internet. Since they have a limited amount of fucks to give, so to speak, they are more likely to leave the site for good after an unpleasant interaction.

Think of minorities as the canary in the coal mine. They are more sensitive, so they start leaving the moment the environment starts to become toxic. Left unchecked, the toxicity will grow and push away everyone else too, so you can't just ignore them for being "snowflakes" or whatever.


Or:

Our culture encourages women and minorities to speak up. White men are expected to endure abuse in silence.

Consider how much attention complaints from women and minorities receive, and how little attention (and how much hostility) complaints from white men receive (unless those men are individually powerful, of course). People tend to repeat actions that are effective, so women and minorities learn to speak up, white men learn to keep their complaints to themselves.

Edit: I'd like to thank those who downvoted this comment for providing a live demonstration of the phenomenon.


Right. So let's not do that. Instead of waiting for minorities to speak up, you should complain right away when an online environment turns toxic.

Since we were not aware until today that minorities received more hostility on SO, that means users really don't know other users' gender and ethnicity, so it's not like anyone will call you a sissy girl for speaking up.


We have been complaining about hostility on SO for years.

It's debatable whether women and minorities actually do receive more hostility on SO, they're more likely to speak up, or SO's management is simply more responsive to their complaints.


It's also debatable whether we are living in a simulation or we are actually brains in a jar, or maybe only you are real and I'm a conversational AI.

But it's pointless to debate things that don't and can't change what we choose to do. Notice that all three of your proposed hypothesis can't change the fact that SO isn't very welcoming and they want to change that.


Awareness of this phenomenon can change what we choose to do.

Rather than ignoring or mocking complaints from white men, we could choose to listen.


I think I get it. They could have chosen to act faster, before being forced to act by the politics of inclusivity.

I personally don't mind though. In my city many positive quality of life changes were made only after some disabled people complained. I benefit from those changes too, so I don't mind the delay as long as it eventually gets done.


I agree, if someone (SO, your city, or anyone else) finally improves their community in a way that benefits everyone, that's a good thing.

And if, as is often the case, past complaints had little effect until a particularly favored interest group spoke up, it's also an opportunity to listen more effectively to people who may have been ignored.


To the extent that marginalized groups have a different style of communication than what is expected at SO, they will be treated differently. You don't have to explicitly know their background.


YES WE SHOULD DEFINITELY STRIVE TO REACH OUT TO THOSE WHO HAVE DIFFERENT COMMUNICATION STYLES THAN WE DO.

> To the extent that marginalized groups have a different style of communication than what is expected at SO, they will be treated differently.


Come on now. This isn't some grand scheme to appeal to all of those social justice coders out there.

If you're in charge of a huge for-profit online community and your only source for demographic/marketing/public image information is your existing user profiles, you should probably start looking for a new line of work. There are many ways that they could find out what people in different demographic groups think of their service without even looking at their membership database.


> No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow unless they explicitly announce it

StackOverflow has names and profile pictures. Users can choose not to have their own photo or name but some do and provides some identifiability. Though I agree about your general point that the primary and most obvious issue is with new users feeling less welcome than specific groups of people.


Do you think that a minority needs to be identified as such to feel unwelcome in a community? That is the premise of your rebuttal


If someone is being treated badly on SO - but there's no way to know the race or gender of that person, how can you say the bad treatment is because of their race or gender?


You're arguing against something that nobody said. Neither this post nor the people supporting this change on this thread and elsewhere have claimed that SO users admins or moderators are being explicitly or implicitly biased by race or gender in the way they are treating new users.

What they did say is that the general level of hostility leveled at all newcomers is something that users who are women and minorities frequently find unwelcoming and makes them feel uncomfortable about using stackoverflow at all.


I don't mean to be rude, but I think you are missing the point. Please read my comment again.


>But this isn't true. No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow unless they explicitly announce it, and generally my perception seems to be a disdain towards newer members in general, not ones from any particular group. Trying to make this about minorities feels like a desperate attempt to fit in with the 'social justice' sphere, and to virtue signal to people on sites like Twitter.

Thank you for saying this. I'm all for welcoming people from all walks of life to the coding community. But who is SO to say these particular people have been demoralized when most of its users are anonymous.

Newbie coders asking stupid questions on SO and getting snarky answers -- mostly because they didn't take the five minutes to see if their question was already asked -- transcends race, sexual orientation, gender and nationality.


Doesn’t seem like OP is particularly welcome to people “from all walks of life”. For example, he seems to have a clear bias in denying the existience of toxic gaming communities [1], never mind Gamergate and it’s ties to white supremacy groups

[1] https://gamingreinvented.com/nintendoarticles/no-the-gaming-...


> No one knows anything about a user on Stack Overflow

???? There are names and profile pictures.


[flagged]


If you think that attitude is limited to white males, I’d suggest widening your social circle. It in fact describes most people of every gender and ethnicity.


Seems like OP has a bias himself thinking toxic gaming communities don’t exist

[1] https://gamingreinvented.com/nintendoarticles/no-the-gaming-...


[flagged]


Pursuing someone's personal details and bringing them into HN threads as ammunition isn't allowed here, regardless of how wrong someone is. Whatever edge you gain in an argument is wiped out by the damage you do to the community by attacking someone this way. Please don't do it, and especially please don't do it in a bunch of different posts, as you did in this case.


>Pursuing someone's personal details

He posted a HN comment that referenced an explicit link. That is not "personal." It's a publicly stated position, and one that sheds light on his true motivations on this subject.

I think this statement is disingenuous.


I can see how it could seem that way, because I skipped some details.

There's a spectrum of these behaviors; some are outright doxxing but most aren't, and there's widespread disagreement about what to call them. When I said "pursuing personal details" I was referring to this spectrum. "Extraneous details" might have been more accurate, but this is not the important distinction.

On HN, we've learned that when one user follows another's trail off site and comes back with details to discredit them with, it lowers the discussion quality in a way that bodes ill for the community. You can see that clearly in this case; when someone finds four different places to post like that, they've crossed into something we don't want to become a norm here.

Whether the details were public or not doesn't change much. The real issue is that this genre of online shaming/war does more harm than good to a community like HN, which is trying for a different value system, so it's better to just keep it out of here.


There's always a trail or sign with these people.

ruirr 9 months ago [flagged]

There is also a trail to politically correct to the nauseous people like you probably. Fanatics at both extremes are not nice.


You can't attack someone like this on HN regardless of how strongly you disagree with them. We ban accounts that do this, so please don't do it again.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


"Both sides" are not equivalent in any objective way.

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