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Dear Stack Exchange, Inc. (dearstackexchange.com)
424 points by bmease 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 406 comments

I suspect that the average user of SE will not care one bit about this whole drama.

I do find it frustrating, puzzling, and sad how SE appears to have treated Monica Cellio. She provides an excellent summary (from her perspective) here: https://cellio.dreamwidth.org/2064709.html

I suspect you're right. I stopped participating in SE years ago not for "political" reasons like this, but because it seemed to be dominated by power-happy mods and people whose main goal was to collect points and not to help others.

This kerfuffle, and I only got a little summary of it, makes my eyes glaze over. I'm certainly not against treating people with respect, but I'm not willing to stick my neck out for some of the unsavory characters here who aren't acting in good faith.

What they did to Monica Cellio was disgusting. And most likely based on pure hate.

I'm in the same place as you are, but in relation to wikipedia rather than stack overflow.

I remember adding a [citation needed] tag to an inaccurate claim, and then discovering that my change has been reverted. The reason the moderator gave was that [citation needed] didn't look good on the page. How do you argue with people like that. I'm not going to spend hours reading on wikipedia's policies just make it better.

SE is bad, but at least I get something out of it. That and the fact that SE's meta game is easier to play than wikipedia's. You just need to make sure you word your question in a way that it can only be answered definitively (no opinion), and preempt duplicate-heads with a list of similar questions and why they don't answer your question.

I've yet to have a question of mine closed as a duplicate, though mods have treated me passive-aggressively for taking away their sticks :^)

Can you give an example on how to word a question?

On Stack Overflow? A good question contains a reproducible problem (or at least an understandable question) and it's worded such that people with the same problem will find the question and answer by googling.

Better than that is better, but that's the threshold between bad and good.

So include error messages instead of just typing "I got a certificate error when …", because people who get the same error will paste their error message into google. Some of then paste it into bing. None type "I got a certificate error when …" into google.

Stack Overflow is about building a knowledge base where people find answers. SEO is essential to that.

What they did to her was wrong from my point of view, but it certainly was not 'based on pure hate'. Don't speak this exaggeration and nonsense. The person who fired her simply had no intention to spend time dealing with Monica's questions and chose the easy route of getting rid of what she perceived as a troublemaker.

Well, it is a pretty hateful way of doing things. I mean, that's how I treat people I hate; shun them, ignore them, not reply to them. So there's an argument there.

I agree though. It seems to me to have more to do with aggrandizing power and influence than with hate. What better way to get rid of competitors than to bait them into behaving "bigoted"? Look at the Monica case. She never refused to use someones chosen pronoun. She was baited into admitting that she already avoids certain ways of addressing people out of kindness and politeness and a desire not to rub people the wrong way. Now she's out. This has nothing to do with bigotry, and everything to do with a group of people that want to kick everybody else off every position of power or influence.

Also, I suspect if she weren't a moderator on Mi Yodea the "woke" community would have had much less of a problem with her. (Even on HN, the politically-correct have to attack everything related to that issue.)

They intentionally took action against her on the Shabbos and Rosh Hashanah when they knew she couldn't respond. If you accept the trans community's claim that misgendering is an act of violence, then if follows that this is was act of 'violence' too.

klyrs 6 days ago [flagged]

> If you accept the trans community's claim that misgendering is an act of violence...

I've found that members of the cisgender community almost uniformly take offense at being misgendered. And responses from the cisgender male community often include threats of physical violence, especially when one persistently misgenders them or challenges the validity of their maleness.

That said, I'm rather troubled by Monica's treatment in this situation, especially its coincidence with Shabbos/Rosy Hashanah.

I get misgendered all the time! I go by "Ruvi" (short for Reuven) and English readers see that as a female name. So on forums I get called "she".

It's never bothered me.


fortran77 6 days ago [flagged]

klyrs 6 days ago [flagged]

My point exactly: you wouldn't be calling mods if you didn't find misgendering to be violent when it's directed at you.

It's not just "the transgender community." It's a baseline of human decency to call folks what they want to be called.

> I mean, that's how I treat people I hate; shun them, ignore them, not reply to them.

That’s also how I treat people I completely don’t care about or am aware of. My default behavior is to ignore, that doesn’t mean I hate everyone I ignore. If I assume this about people who ignore me, I’ll probably be wrong.

Should I assume Comcast is shunning me when they don’t respond? Or that they hate me? Or maybe they are just a stupid org that doesn’t care at all about me.

> "Well, it is a pretty hateful way of doing things. I mean, that's how I treat people I hate; shun them, ignore them, not reply to them."

That is a striking perspective, but perhaps just reflects a generational difference?

In a social media driven culture, where people grow up feeling that "attention == validation"... I suppose they could also feel that "indifference == hate" as a corollary.

I'm 56. I didn't grow up in the "Social Media" culture. But I recognize when a moderator of Mi Yodea is being attacked for seemingly contrived reasons.

As a self-described "average user of SE", I find this drama pretty similar to drama I've seen circling around the Quora "community" for the last 6 months or so: confusing.

I use both SE and Quora to get answers, especially to extremely-niche questions. I understand that some people do use them for community and that people do interact and know each other on both platforms, but it's hard to understand complaints about a subpar community when the goal of the site doesn't seem to revolve around a community at all.

To me, SE is a Q&A site. It exists to let people ask questions and get those questions answered. If you took away the community entirely, would it be any less useful?

This probably comes off a bit flippant to the situation, but it's meant to illustrate that you're right: I'd say I'm a pretty average user of SE (in that I just use it to get answers, and occasionally write my own answers when I can, and so far it's worked perfectly well for me) and I don't care one bit about community-based drama.

> If you took away the community entirely, would it be any less useful?

My suspicion is that the answer is yes. You'd have to have actual data to be sure, but based on my experience with internet communities, there are probably a small number of people who bring in the vast majority of the value (i.e. answer the most questions, clean up/flag/categorize questions and answers). Those people spend a lot of time on the site and the community aspect (relationships, reputation, etc) is a big part of what motivates them to consistently return and add value.

I concur. You can see the same thing on HN, if you look closely. For a new or infrequent user, all comment threads are randos talking to other randos. For a frequent commenter who's been here for a while now, it's a community with a lot of transient commenters, but also a lot of regulars, who recognize each other's handles and sometimes carry discussions across time and multiple comment threads - and it's a big part of the value of this place. If HN was to suddenly replace all usernames with their SHA-1 hashes, being here would get much less interesting.

I'd actually argue that that that context-heavy communication (carrying discussions across time and multiple comment threads) often makes the conversation worse from the point of view of those transient commenters (which, I'd guess, is a majority of HN? You probably know better than me on that, though). I'd classify myself as a transient commenter here since I don't recognize names even though I've been on HN since 2011. I admit it probably makes the site more enjoyable for those regulars, though, and can sometimes also generate "good" conversation that wouldn't otherwise exist that is beneficial to transient commenters also.

I actually spent a long time lobbying Quora to make content anonymous by default for exactly this reason. It's really frustrating when I come into a comment thread and don't understand some context outside of what's actually being said. This isn't nearly as much of a problem on HN than it is on Quora (or even SE), but if I ask an intentionally-generic question I don't want people looking at who asked it and needlessly scoping their answers to the kind of answers they think I want. I also understand there are some psychological benefits to the opposite though (people wanting to know more about who asked a question to put a face to who they think they're helping), but IMO what little benefit it offers the OP dwarfs potentially unfortunate specificity for anyone else with that question in the future that might put them in a weird mix of "duplicate question" and "oh, but this one little thing is different for me".

To my experience, "context-heavy communication" is rather subtle on HN, more of an inside joke if anything. I can't think of a case where a comment would seem off-topic if read by a transient commenter; it's just that over time, you start recognizing other regulars and their views on some topics, and sometimes you may remark on it. Like, I recall participating in comment threads that branched off into "I recall you saying X on a related thread some time ago; could you elaborate on that?" somewhere deep in the discussion. Or, I know to not reply about topic Y to a particular commenter, because we've been through a long discussion about it some time ago, and essentially agreed to disagree. Or, someone will joke that it's time to submit and upvote some Erlang stuff to HN, and the joke mysteriously stays upvoted because, well, it's an inside joke.

I’ve been here for four or five years, and I only recognize two or three people by their username. I don’t pay attention to the people - only the comments.

I've been here for just under three years, and I'm in the same boat, except I don't really even have but one username that I'm specifically familiar with due to HN (and that'd be dang). I've recognized familiar usernames from other places (such as when byuu occasionally shows up to talk shop about emulation), but that's a bit different.

I honestly think that's one of HN's strengths. Too often, in general discourse, who is talking becomes as important, if not more important, than what is being said. I feel that the lack of prominence of a poster/commenter's name is a plus - it invites the reader to focus on the message being written, rather than the source.

I pay attention to comments first, too, but I can't help but remember the handles - especially if I had a back-and-forth with someone over the course of a day, and had to verify that I'm still replying to the same commenter. Like, I recognize your handle, I think we've been replying to each other on some thread some weeks ago.

(Then again, maybe I'm projecting, assuming more community in this place than there really is. I'm a HN addict after all.)

Compared to other communities, HN is particularly minimalistic when it comes to associating posts with authors.

> If you took away the community entirely, would it be any less useful?

so for a while, due to strange quirk of circumstance, i had the inside track of a profitable adult website. it was your standard “streaming adult videos, no ads, charge hefty subscription” model. one morning the ceo says let’s do community. everyone’s going social. lets have blogs, message board, the whole shebang. Announcement made with much fanfare. The idiot audience thought community means they could talk to their favorite pornstar :) once the ceo clarifies that no, community doesn’t mean that, they turn on him like a pack of wolves. what do you mean, you want us to talk to each other ?! like random perv from oklahoma should message arbitrary perv from cleveland about which vid gets him off ? wtf ?!! the poor ceo’s got his back to a wall. he says, we’ll be the world’s largest adult community. the peeps are like, dude, largest community of pervs ? fbi will have a ball. half of us are scared our employer or our spouse or worse, teenage son hacks into our account. now you want us to have wacky avatars & actually talk to each other on a messageboard so whatever we say persists for posterity ? it quickly went downhill from there. they brought in a moderator, sort of like dang. he was supposed to police the crowds & tamp down on contentious disagreement. but hardly anybody participated, so they had to broaden dang’s role. so now everytime a video was posted, poor dang would have to watch the whole video and make insightful comments like “lady featured in this clip at 7:15 is the same lady in that other clip at 9:20” and so on. soon he became an encyclopedia of porn trivia. people actually started showing up on the community board just to poke fun of his wide acumen. Around that time i quit. But it was quite the experience. Community can be a major hassle.

This was an interesting read. If you wrote more of these stories out into a longer blog format I'd totally read it!

So you're telling me there's a dude named Dang out there with an incredible wealth of porn knowledge? That's really cool in the weirdest way and I bet you he can't even tell anyone about it for the rest of his life

Dang, dang.

One of the fascinating aspects of any user-generated-and-shared experience is that community forms. From original forums hoping to foster community to blog posts where folks live in comments to the rise of wikis and the the communities there, to the current optimization of "social networks", what makes the content good is the community who is willing to contribute to it. Just a pure "look for questions and answer them" will fail, and has over and over again, even with payment/bounties for answers, unless a community can form that takes pride in sharing knowledge, keeping things accurate, and trying to help. And once it declines, as these things can, into arguments from the louder voices, then the community suffers... and so does the quality of content moving forward.

So, without community, you wouldn't have the answers, and without the answers, folks stop asking the questions.

I have a feeling this is like asking if you could take the community out of Little Italy in NYC.

For the tourist coming in, looking through the windows, having a canoli, does the community really matter? Are they even visible in the throngs of the crowd?

But for the people who live there day in and day out, the expulsion of a popular shop owner from their midst might be quite perturbing and a big stir.

At the end of the day, without those shop owners who come back every day, Little Italy probably would not be the same pleasant experience for the tourists. I imagine it’s similar for the largely invisible to the end user stack exchange community.

> If you took away the community entirely, would it be any less useful?

The whole platform is based around the users creating questions and answers. The site puts much of the effort for curation and moderation on to the community, if you visit the chat rooms on there you'll find that there's groups of people who congregate there who do a disproportionate amount of that work of keeping things running smoothly.

So I think there is a risk of the site quality sliding substantially if the currently highly engage segment of the community there disengages.

At least there is this bit at the very bottom;

> Breaking news, October 6 21:00 UTC: the CTO stepped in, accepted responsibility, apologized to the community, and promised to contact me directly to apologize and discuss next steps. Finally! I look forward to that contact.

one thing that I love about SE is that everyone is very professional. almost all answers are either sourced or can easily be seen to be correct. what I am worried is that if a lot of the normal mods quit and our replaced with new mods, who may be more political, SE will turn into Reddit where leftist politics prevail in all of the major subreddits and most responses to factual questions consist of options or unsourced "facts". if that ever becomes the case then I will be sad. although, when seeing how the admins of Reddit act, I'm guessing that acting like they do is good for business.

Give https://dev.to/stackoverflow/what-a-very-bad-day-at-work-tau... a read - the comment to which Sara replied and the response given.

The reddit future is a very real possibility.

What's the "reddit future" a reference to?

> SE will turn into Reddit where leftist politics prevail in all of the major subreddits and most responses to factual questions consist of options or unsourced "facts"

How much politics do you get in technical Q and A forums?

Currently not much. But maybe in the future if someone mentions a man page they will be banned for not calling it a people page


Average user here, I completely don't give a shit about any of this. As long as I can google to find answers to my bugs I'm fine.

While, in the beginning, a very active user, I've long now given up on that network. I can't remember when was the last time I asked a question without being forced to defend it for a period of at least a few hours, why it shouldn't be closed as a duplicate, offtopic or ... It used to be an excellent network, but nowadays it's just script-kiddies-playing-admins/editors playground. It is no longer a productive technical community, so I've gone back to specialized forums. Pity, I really liked the sites in the beginning.

I think much of what feels bad about StackOverflow now stems from the surprisingly braindead way it treats duplicate questions.

Currently, moderators close the question with a link to the question they think it's a dupe of. Why not instead let people answer the question with a link to the answer that they think solves the poster's problem? If they're right then the asker can just accept that answer, and if not then people can add comments, post alternate answers, etc.

I've come across so many questions closed as dupes for answers that are years old. The tech has changed, the answer is not the same. The question is a duplicate, sure, but the correct answer is now different.

The mods are ignorant and quick to act poorly. StackExchange has sucked for several years at least.

> The question is a duplicate, sure, but the correct answer is now different.

Also, often I see newer and better answers under the 'original' question, but they never get the upvotes or the 'correct answer' badge. Sometimes I completely overlook them because they are just not as visible.

This is because the original asker has moved on with their life and doesn't care anymore. Maybe after a few years the accepted answer should be switched the one with the most upvotes? (Maybe with some margin, say, it must have at least 20% more votes than the next best one)

The answer with the most upvotes still gets shown. The problem is that much later answers that are more correct with later technologies, don't gather enough upvotes to make it to the front of the pack, so they get ignored.

Allowing duplicate questions, at least after some time, could fix this problem.

Yep - in fact it would make more sense to me if SO not only allowed duplicate questions, but also added a decay such that even highly-rated Q/A pairs would eventually get overtaken by newer content.

Questions and answers just aren't evergreen things that one can expect to last through the ages. And even if they were, treating them as such means that SO's new users generally can't contribute anything.

I find SO's current model really bizarre.

Maybe something like what HN does. From what I understand, recent things get shown higher here than older things. Older things need more upvotes to keep up. Probably something like votes/age or something.

But that diminishes their Power. That’s it.

I don't understand this cry against moderators. These people are volunteerily giving their time to keep quality bar high without any payment. If these people weren't there then SO will be full of duplicates, off-topic and opinion based Q&A just like Quora. A general tendency I have seen is just to ask (often poorly stated) questions without doing simple search to see if it is already answered. Someone needs to respect those people picking up garbage on the street.

But my experience of the site (as an experienced long time user) is much more negatively affected by the “active moderation” than it is positively affected by it. I’d rather have ten duplicate questions for every question, than a race to ninja-downvote or close anything that is tangentially related to an existing question. The struggle to maintain quality in the content of the site appears to be destroying the quality of the experience of the site. In the end, if the experience is not good, nor will the content be if people stop visiting. I’m sure 99% of the negativity is coming from non-admins. The ninja downvotes and closevotes are coming from regular users.

I still visit but I basically stopped asking and answering because it’s just not worth the stress of having to defend my question or answer. I have a 10k rep account and I’m an experienced dev with a decent grip of English as a second language but I still never felt once that my answer was welcome or my question was good enough for the site. I can only imagine what a novice must feel when using SO.

> I’d rather have ten duplicate questions for every question

Sure, unless it really happens. I'd been burned by over-moderation as well but when I look at the process I think it's not arbitrary. There are controls and voting by more than one person. Remember, there is nothing a moderator gains by doing any of this.

Yes, I think moderators aren't to blame for the poor quality of the experience (mostly).

But I think this recipe is a disaster: users downvote and close-vote. Moderators look at votes and clean up accordingly. I think the problem is that the algorithms allow a small group of drive-by downvoters to destroy the experience. I'd be more than willing to accept a somewhat lower content quality for a more friendly experience.

Well, what is the downside to having duplicate* questions?

I would guess the vast majority of traffic to any specific question page is search, followed by specific links people have posted (on or offsite), and relatively little will come from browsing through lists of questions (tags pages) or something like that.

Search is going to surface the most up-voted and linked questions. Links people have posted are obviously very specific (no chance of confusion following the link).

I would say the upsides are that you end up with more opportunities to have nuanced differences in question handled, give more people a chance to answer questions, naturally refresh questions/answers over the years (eg: "How do I minify CSS in <stack>?" will have very different answers in 2019 than it did in 2009).

* I'm not necessarily suggesting exact duplicates, but allowing for questions to be re-asked after a year or two, and allowing any subtle difference in the situation, stack, etc.

I think SO is poorly designed as a system. It certainly does encourage people to ask not-so-great questions. It doesn't handle them particularly well. And then expects people to clean up the mess for free. Those people of course feel stressed and overwhelmed, so are inclined to be rude, aggressive, and hasty in their decisions.

Like ldigas, I long ago gave up on SO because of bad moderation experiences. I'm grudgingly willing to respect those mods as humans, but I certainly won't as moderators. They do a poor job, needlessly offending and discouraging contributors. They could quit any time. They could go on strike at any time. But no, they just kept on.

I can definitely muster up some sympathy when people trapped in bad jobs are jerks. They are doing it to survive. But people who volunteer to be jerks? That's on them.

SO is marvelously designed and I often discuss this with friends and colleagues. First imagine this: Experts who are often paid big dollars per hour are coming over and spending time in answering your questions for no apparent reason. The quality of content is very high when you compare with any other Q&A or even general social media website. I often find 50% of my programming answers at SO. If there is an accepted highly voted answer for a technical question, I would probably have better than 80% of chance that it works for me. I have saved enormous amount of time because of SO. It has accelerated my learning by 2X or 3X on specific language or framework. In many ways, general productivity of developers and in some cases their entire professional careers hinges on quality and content of SO. Now think about it: Why these highly paid people coming over to answer your questions? Why SO has not already became trash like many of its other predecessors and contemporaries? What is the magic resisting power it has?

The answer lies in its magnificent design. SO has community based voting for almost everything. Almost everything is gamified. There are people literally writing essays on why everyone should vote them to be an "officer" for X and how they will work hard on keeping quality bar high. There is an extra-ordinary passion in what they do. Its HN on steroids but with much better mechanics. It is almost completely decentralized and operates without needing people blessed with special dictatorial powers 99.9% of the times. Again, lot of these volunteers are highly paid IT/tech folks, not your ordinary 8chan Joe. They could have been doing anything else in their free time instead of technical answering questions at SO. This is much harder than dishing out fact-free opinions on non-technical websites as armchair expert. Again, no one gets paid for anything they do on SO. This is the beauty of gamification and extremely well designed community driven completely decentralized governance at its extreme. Its almost magical to me and I haven't found any other website on Internet achieve it at same scale and importance.

> Experts who are often paid big dollars per hour are coming over and spending time in answering your questions for no apparent reason.

They do so for the same reason they did that before SO and SE existed. A good chunk of people like to help each other. Another (partially overlapping) chunk likes to have their knowledge challenged, another (also partially overlapping) like to show off their knowledge in front of their peers. This was what made the Internet tick since the earliest days.

SO happened to come from within the community (Jeff and Joel were known experts), and had the right features to eventually channel most of the drive I described above through itself. But it's not like SO created it. SO is also accumulating some anti-features these days (like well-known propensity for closing 90% of interesting questions as duplicates or off-topic, or the recent moderator dramas, or targeted advertising they snuck in), so their future is somewhat uncertain.

> Again, lot of these volunteers are highly paid IT/tech folks, not your ordinary 8chan Joe.

A lot of "8chan Joes" are highly paid IT/tech folks. Or at least I'd assume so, given that it's true for 4chan.

> They could have been doing anything else in their free time instead of technical answering questions at SO. (...) Again, no one gets paid for anything they do on SO.

People also answer SO question on their employeers' time.

> This is the beauty of gamification and extremely well designed community driven completely decentralized governance at its extreme.

SO wasn't a "big design up front". It evolved over time. Gamification helps a bit, but I question it's critical to get highly-trained professionals to answer complex technical questions for free. Again, a lot of highly-trained professionals do that simply because they like it. On SO, or on HN (one of the big points of this site), or on old-school forums, or on conferences, etc. etd.

Honestly, this is typical of what I can't stand about Stack Overflow. Actual person reports actual problem with SO. The response? "WRONG! Actually it's marvelous! Magnificent! Magical!" I'm only surprised you didn't mark my comment as a duplicate.

Even if I were 100% wrong, this would be offputting. But I don't think I am. I'm in the top 100 users here; I was a Quora Top Writer; I was a Wikipedia admin; I've worked on community sites, including a Webby winner. I know something about online contribution. Yes, SO's design got them where they are. But that doesn't mean it's perfect. And until SO's fans can start seeing those issues, they stand no chance of getting fixed.

As someone who answers quite a few quesitons on SO I'd really like to see posts that were perceived as wrongfully closed to see if I agree (haha) and also to see how to fix the system.

Of course I have no hope that S.O. will change anything. When they started their "be nice" campaign I suggested the "CLOSED: This is a duplicate" message should be changed to "CONGRATS: This appears to be a duplicates so you win! There is already an answer [here]!"

In any case there are rules. One is "post the code you're having trouble with in the question, not a link offsite." The offsite link is useless if the code changes there or the offsite site goes offline. Some not insignificant percent of the time the question will just have a link to offsite code. I'll leave a comment saying effectively, "please add the code to the question" and then I vote to close, reason "missing code". The person never adds the code. Are they like you claiming S.O. is rude and unreasonable? Did they get their answer somewhere else and never come back to follow up? I have no idea.

Actually the rule is even more specific. "Make a minimal repo and post it the question itself". Almost no one makes a remotely minimal repo which is fine, but in general lots of people fail at the "repo" part period. In order to help them we'd need to download code, setup dev environments, make up test data, etc...."

What I do know is I often spend 30 to 240 minutes writing working examples for a single answer. I do that volunteerily for reasonable questions. When someone barfs out a "give me teh codez" question it can be very angering. They're basically asking for free labor. If that's not rude I don't know what is.

Here's a recent "give me free labor" question


Here's a recent "teach me an entire CS course" question


And here's an answer I spent over 150 minutes on, trying to understand their code, trying to make a working sample, running into bugs, when I looked up 2.5 hours had passed.


And another more typical 30 minutes on this one


note I'm not trying to brag. I hear your complaint often. I just don't run into it myself. Instead I see lots of volunteers answering questions and only voting to close the bad ones and they are bad ones.

> As someone who answers quite a few quesitons on SO I'd really like to see posts that were perceived as wrongfully closed to see if I agree (haha) and also to see how to fix the system.

This person[1] was getting unexpected results when calling is_integer. According to the duplicate, the solution is that they should call is_integer... which is what they were doing. The original close voter commented 'sorry I didn't read your question properly before suggesting the dupe', but it remains closed.

The question was answered in the comments: this surprising result was due to floating point error and rounding done by the print function. However, it could not be posted as an answer, because the question was closed. I voted to reopen, but the vote failed.

[1]: https://stackoverflow.com/q/49847677/331041

EDIT: The share link I posted takes me to a different question when I'm logged in than it does when I open in an incognito window. WTF.

EDIT2: Apparently serving completely different pages to logged-in users and logged-out users is by design. https://meta.stackoverflow.com/q/271077/

Here's a link to question [1] that should work for everybody: https://stackoverflow.com/q/49847677/331041?noredirect=1

EDIT3: It doesn't work. Sorry. I tried my best, but only logged-in users will get the correct page from the links I posted.

>The question was answered in the comments

It's lucky that the person who answered had enough carma to write comments. SO's job seems to be to prevent users from answering questions.

> I see lots of volunteers answering questions and only voting to close the bad ones and they are bad ones.

Before answering questions in future give them a bit of a Googling. Find the ones someone like yourself didnt spend time on, the ones that instantly got closed as off topic or duplicate or moderator was grumpy today so closed.

I get it, wealth of free information and that, sure. But these are the top results in Google. The top results, not a /new queue where you’re hiding. The pages that someone having this problem will visit.

From the visitor’s point of view, SO is a cesspool of power tripping mods who love to close questions.

The solution? SO should noindex closed questions and add canonical links for duplicates. Simple enough, tell the damn search engines things are closed/redirected as well as the user. It would improve the end user experience infinitely to stop arriving on what they perceive as unnecessarily closed questions.

isn't that what a closed as duplicate question does ? it has a link to the answer. noindex doesn't help. we don't know how to word all questions so leaving the duplicate question indexable gives search more chances to connect a questioner with an existing answer

In theory yes, in reality it just serves to surface the duplicates that aren’t duplicates of the question at all.

In the absolute ideal these questions would be answered instead of closed as dupe but right now it just means following a trail of dupes and closures to maybe find the answer before giving up and going back to the search results.

Instead of that, give the user the wrong answer straight away so they can just back up one to the search to continue digging

> in reality it just serves to surface the duplicates that aren’t duplicates of the question at all.

Or the questions that are duplicate questions, but with an answer five years out of date that will never get updated because new people interested in the topic don't have enough magic beans to actually do anything.

> I just don't run into it myself.

I think the reason for that is you’re a web developer. The majority of the admins too. For less popular domain areas, the experience is very different. I run into the issue all the time. The experience became so disappointing that I stopped writing answers there. Here’s a couple examples where downvoters destroyed, or almost destroyed, good questions with my answers to them: https://stackoverflow.com/q/57323981/ https://stackoverflow.com/q/57064879/

It drives me nuts that you need 10k rep to view deleted questions. I can't see your second question because I only have ~3k reputation.

I don't understand why it's a privilege in the first place. What's so dangerous about allowing me to read a 'bad' question?

> As someone who answers quite a few quesitons on SO I'd really like to see posts that were perceived as wrongfully closed to see if I agree (haha) and also to see how to fix the system

Slashdot had this as well, it was called meta-mod.

So are the users (giving their time), both more and less experienced ones. But I would rather have a forum with a duplicate or two, than a forum where you cannot ask (a different question) because it is constantly closed off as a duplicate - sometimes in the time while you are writing an explanation of how it is different than the other one - by a mod who hasn't taken the time to understand the difference. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

And while I agree that some amount of moderation is necessary, it has long ago crossed that limit.

Mods should moderate in moderation, not to the extreme.

Just the other day I asked a question regarding Windows and Android around 12h (midday), and spend until 23h that day discussing with a mod, whether it should be moved to a site that deals exclusively with Android questions (and where it would be closed/offtopic because of the Windows part), or closed on the site where it was asked for being offtopic, because of the Android part.

That they - the mods - haven't understood the question became obvious only when we settled that discussion, and when they attempted to answer it themselves.

This is just a trivial example. But it shows the current state of affairs.

I don't understand why people would volunteer to do work for a for profit entity. Especially one that will, apparently, fire you on a whim.

You work as an unpaid content author for ycombinator.

That's such twisted logic. Are you saying I'm doing unpaid work for my social group when we have a conversation? Jesus Christ not everything needs a dollar symbol attached even if it benefits a company.

I think that was the point - that answering questions on SO is like having a conversation, and feels pleasant to some people, not like work.

At least it feels pleasant until a moderator or community manager starts interfering with it.

The ratio of value (or entertainment) provided to oneself versus value provided to another entity clearly differs significantly between a user of a site and an (unpaid) moderator of it.

Have you ever answered a question on stackoverflow? Or upvoted something? That's the same thing, just to a lesser degree.

When you say 'given up', do you mean you don't ask/answer anymore yourself or also that you don't use it at all?

Anyway, would be interesting to know which part of SE exactly you talk about. I've been sort of active for years on e.g. C++ tag on SO and never had any of those problems for any answer given or question I asked. On the contrary, I got a proper answer within hours. I admit that it happened more than once though that while typing a question I did some extra research and while doing so found the answer, on SO itself, and didn't have to post the question anymore so that rules out duplicates.

Just curious, by saying specialized forums did you mean the sub stack exchanges? Like dba or gamedev, or something else?

Which forums?

It's incredible that pronouns can bring down an entire community. Pick you battles please, we're losing good things because of this silly conflict.

Apparently, the issue here is that SE removed a respected moderator but isn't telling the community what happened, why, what the removal process was or will be in the future, etc. Pronouns is what was being discussed at the time, but it doesn't seem to be the high-order bit.

It was for SE, apparently

IMO the real issue here is not pronouns per se but rather it is SO's behavior in response (firing, ghosting, inconsistency).

No, it's pronouns. More generally, it's "I expect you to conform with the way I perceive the world, even if it's not the way you perceive it."

The entire point of a pronoun is to convey my perceived relation to the noun. We do it all the time with possessives and formalities; if gender is truly a fluid, to-be-perceived, non-biological construct, then why shouldn't we treat it the same way?

I suspect the reason that some people are so insistent on preferred pronouns, is a backlash against people who insist on misgendering them. They've had to fight for every shred of recognition.

This could have been a complete non-issue if there hadn't been so much stubborn hate and disrespect towards transgender and non-binary people. A single case of misgendering would be easy to take as an honest mistake if it wasn't against a context of decades of hate and denial of their identity. So use of pronouns seems to have become the main signifier of whether they're getting the respect they deserve.

That doesn't make one particular view on the use of pronouns right or wrong, but it does make it complex and laden with a lot of baggage that not everybody is aware of.

I get that, and sort of sympathized at one point. But for one thing, if you're not allowed to avoid the controversy except by not speaking at all, then the hands been overplayed.

Personally, I always try to draw the line from a natural rights approach. If one "right" requires the infringement of the rights of someone else, then it's not really a natural right. If your personal belief requires me to have a certain personal belief, it's not a natural-right, it's a form of religious jihad.

People need to realize that if you aren't "normal" in some way (whether it's a personality quirk, weird hobby, odd fetish, or disability, or whatever) that life isn't guaranteed to be easy, and you're going to need to take certain conversations or commentary with a thick skin. (I know "normal" can be a no-no in this topic, but I mean in general terms, which I think is still appropriate for this context.)

And the "coerced" or "forced speech" approach really doesn't make sense in practice if we're strictly looking at self-identity. If it were strictly about self-identity, we'd still say pro-life and pro-choice, instead of pro-woman and anti-abortion. "Racist" would basically be off limits except for the very small number of people that openly embrace it as a badge. Making any assumption about anyone's outward appearance (or any assumption about the underlying motive of anyone's actions) could land you in trouble with the thought police.

People say 1984 and BNW, but I think the whole thing is...it's very Victorian- just with a different set of taboos and standards. Although with the direction me-too is headed, with people being offended (or even feeling harassed or assaulted) just by being asked-out in (what they perceive to be) an offensive manor, we've almost come full circle.

I mostly agree with you. There's two extremes in this: restricting speech because it's impossible not to offend someone, and intentionally offending someone. I think both are bad. I think the best way forward is a good faith best effort. Try not to misgender someone, but if that means you avoid gendered pronouns in general, and not just to single out transgender people, then that should certainly be fine. And when you get it wrong, correct yourself. At the same time, it's pointless to condemn someone for getting it wrong; mistakes happen. But it would be nice if they're just honest mistakes, and not people intentionally trying to misgender people.

So yeah, we need some balance. You can't expect to never ever get offended, but at the same time, we should be trying to accept people who are different.

The comparison with racists doesn't quite work, as they're defined specifically by not accepting people who are different in a specific way. Of course they'd like to see that normalised, but at the same time they oppose the normalisation of others who are not hurting anyone in any way, and that's something that needs to be called out. But transgender people just want to be themselves, not hurt anyone, and not get hurt by anyone. And I think the reason they overreact is because they get hurt so much. I think you and I would react much the same way if we were constantly under attack merely for being ourselves.

This gave me an aha moment. It's really just an attempt at legislating mortality. But I need to ponder that.

>And when you get it wrong, correct yourself.

This is where I strongly disagree. At most, the compromise is to keep it ambiguous. Otherwise you're putting your personal belief system over mine, and expecting me to modify my outward behavior to accommodate your beliefs (and by defying my own).

Whereas my beliefs would require no outward change in behavior on your part, let alone one that you might find internally immoral. You would just have to be tolerant.

Re: the racist thing. The technical definition doesn't fit the applied use of the term. Most people the left labels racist are at most apathetic, if you leave them out of it. And I don't mean forcing them to treat everyone equally. I mean being accused of racism if you don't actively support whatever political agenda is the flavor of the week.

It's the same forced participation that draws the comparison. And it's counter productive because it fosters resentment.

>they oppose the normalisation of others

This has become some sort of fetishisation, 99% of people being called racist want normalisation through assimilation. There's no personal grudge because a person is different. It's the special treatment being demanded that people have a problem with.

>But transgender people just want to be themselves, not hurt anyone, and not get hurt by anyone.

By demanding that others go against these same principles.

Based on Monica Cellio's blogpost (https://cellio.dreamwidth.org/2064709.html), I think what happened is that, last year, she posted saying that she prefers, when possible, to refer to people in ways that don't require using pronouns at all. Later, this was misinterpreted to mean that she refused to use people's requested pronouns, and she was fired from her position. That might have been reasonable if she had actually said that, but it sounds like she didn't say anything of the sort.

That makes me think that it's not really about pronouns, it's about people using bad-faith misinterpretation and unjustified accusations to hold a witch-hunt. Pronouns are just the purported subject.

But I'm new to the whole kerfuffle, so I may be missing something.

You're giving them too much credit. She said she'd prefer not using pronouns at all. They said if she avoids using pronouns, she's just as guilty as using the wrong one. Then they fired/de-moded her based on her stated preference, assuming she would not follow the future rules.

They also did this at 6 pm on a Friday. She's Jewish.

> They also did this at 6 pm on a Friday. She's Jewish.

In fairness, there really isn't a good time to fire someone. I would normally think that the end of the work week is one of the least bad times to fire someone.

Agreed, but I'm speaking more to the hypocrisy of being expected to be sensitive to the personal beliefs / self-identity of the person you're addressing. The very principle they "fired" her for.

Edit: Also, even if that's the best time, you should ensure you make personal contact, and not just do the equivalent of a ghosting.

No, I agree. There is a minimum level of etiquette that should be followed when terminating someone, even if it is for cause, and even if they are a volunteer.

> They said if she avoids using pronouns, she's just as guilty as using the wrong one.

People that think like this baffle me

When I refer to people online, I rarely use 'pronouns'. IMO in online communication, it's most clear/neutral to just refer to people by their name or username, e.g. if I'm referring to you I might just say @beerandt. I can't imagine how that could be seen as offensive in any way

I don't get it either.

I can see a case where trolls could abuse it, but that shouldn't preclude well-intentioned use.

Is this particularly onerous because she'd be unable to do work to defend herself the following day, as it was the sabbath?

(Honesty question. I'm curious what the connection is, and that's the best I can think of.)

Basically yes. Using their own standards, they should have known that she wouldn't be able to receive any notification for at least a day. Not only didn't they discuss it privately with her before taking action, they essentially allowed rumor to spread unanswered for a full day, if not all weekend.

The way she writes about a sharp distinction about a "negative commandment" vs "positive requirement" in the rules here makes it sound like she's really against respecting people's preferred pronouns and looking for a loophole that doesn't require her to do so. I don't have anything against gender-neutral language, but that kind of seemingly-motivated reasoning makes me uncomfortable, and I wouldn't be surprised if this sort of thing made SE think she was looking for loopholes to get out of respecting the CoC.

If it were a common expression of homophobia to to refer to gay people's husbands/wives/boyfriends/girlfriends as their "roommate", SE made a rule against doing that, and a moderator asked if it would be fine if they always referred to the partners by their full names ... I wouldn't really get the impression that the moderator is trying to follow the spirit of the CoC.

Maybe not every user needs to be on board with the spirit of the CoC, but the moderators that are responsible for enforcing it probably should be.

> if gender is truly a fluid, to-be-perceived, non-biological construct, then why shouldn't we treat it the same way?

Because no one sane can keep up outside of a small personal group of friends.

That's what I'm saying. Pronouns (of all types, not just gender) should convey the speakers perception and intent, so there's nothing to keep track of. Think of vous/tu or thou/you. If you have kids, it's the difference between saying to your spouse "our kid drew all by himself" and "your kid drew on the wall". The pronoun selection conveys meaning perceived by the speaker, and not always the literal categorical noun substitution. But it's for the speaker to decide.

I'll leave you with this. An older gay friend was involved in gay rights stuff back in the 1970's. He said there were two kinds of activists in the organizations. Those that wanted to achieve goals and those that wanted to involve themselves in internecine politics. His experience is the latter win.

I suspect that's what's going on at SO.

“Keeping your identity small” has certainly gone out of fashion.

This essay would be harshly criticized if it was written today. It still might be someday.

Why do you say that?

There's two ways of reading this. You can read it from a technical perspective and take the message of something along the lines of "Don't invest your ego into unnecessary technical questions because it'll stop you having logical and productive discussions". But if this were written today in the context of something like this SE issue you could read it as tone deaf - a trans-man/women doesn't choose to face discrimination, they don't have a choice over their identity, they merely express their identity, so telling them to "Keep your identity" small is basically akin to saying that they shouldn't express their identity - something that PG as a straight white male doesn't have to worry about.

Disclaimer: It was written in 2009, read in context it's very clear the first interpretation is the correct one, there's an entire concept of identity that didn't exist in the public discussion when this was written.

I see what you mean. I guess perhaps another way of characterizing PG's advice would be to keep your identity as small as possible, but no smaller.

I think it's a pretty good idea to think about how to not be a "Java programmer" or a "kitesurfer" (to pick two things that I could be identified as), since the former sets my brain up to be implicitly against, say, Kotlin or Haskell, and the latter sets my brain up to be against windsurfing. And I like all of those things too!

But certainly, there are things that are core to someone's identity, and I guess that's where each of us needs to find our own boundaries.

Not that I expect this to become universal mores, but wisdom traditions from Buddhism to Deleuze advise us (generally speaking, blurring important distinctions) to have no core identity.

Identity can be a tool and a crutch. My feeling (as someone who identifies as human and has been hanging out/coping with the world for 3-4 decades -- a feeling, informed by a lifetime of good and bad situations) is that identity politics hurts more the identity-assertion people; the opposite faction is merely annoyed.

PG's essays contain a good amount of quote-unquote "real talk". His SJW-isms espoused on Twitter and the like are obviously only superficial, a defense mechanism widely recognized as a necessity among semi-known, substantially-wealthy persons.

This is pretty common amongst business leaders; comparing their statements against their serious work quickly shows that it's not all so warm-and-fuzzy.

Virtue signaling may be its own reward to the masses, but it serves a real function for the well-to-do in preventing or at least confusing a Marie Antoinette effect. If there's any "let them eat cake" to be found, they can point to an abundance of more recent "truth to power" statements that will create enough ambiguity to tamp down the fervor of the mob, if and/or when it comes to that.

Some people would say that "keep your identity small" is functionally (although not in tone or spirit) the same as saying "gay men, stay in the closet" because in the absence of anything saying otherwise, people will assume you're part of the majority.

Furthermore, some people would say that everyone staying in the closet is bad advice for the gay community overall, as it means the average person will only hear about the 1% of gay people who are arrested for sex crimes, not the 99% of gay people who are perfectly nice people living normal lives and minding their own business, or the great scientists and inventors and authors who happened to be gay.

This is, as I understand it, an area of substantial strength of feeling in the gay community - it's part of what underlies concepts like 'gay pride' and the famous chant "we're here, we're queer, we're not going to disappear".

And although I've used gay men in the example above, it applies to any minority group - although with different details, I've never seen a female programmers' pride march!

I'm not gay, but I'm chronically mentally ill. I get (a version of, at least) the whole closet thing.

But here's the nub: the mental illness belongs to some contexts (therapist, friends, intimate relationship) and not others (trying to sell a project to a client).

The part about preferred pronouns feels a little too abstract and counterproductive. This is a personal feeling, coming from a personal interpretation of sources of wisdom. And it's not because it makes other people react in this or that way -- the point is not conquering the Other, you can't do this anyway. It's about how you set about to cope with the world and grow with it; how you deal with your own subjectivity.

Maybe I'm wrong. It's a very different minoritarian perspective.

Because given the prominence of identity as a central cultural debate, this essay comes across as tone deaf. I said it still might be because there's a tendency to judge past works by todays moral standards. For for instance, look at the twitter kerfuffle that ensued when Netflix decided to carry the old television show Friends.

Got a link to the friends issues?

Google isn't turning up anything. What was the issue with Friends?

Oh, I see.

Apparently friends is problematic. Racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist and fat'ist (Is that an 'ist?).

Yeah there was some language and jokes in there that wouldn't be acceptable today. That was the gist.

This reads as a blasé swipe at LGBTQ+ attempts to achieve equal rights, societal acceptance, and common decency from others. I'm guessing that's not what you intended?

Disclaimer: I don't have a strong opinion about the specifics of the stackexchange case. Without knowing all of the details, it seems the actions and new policy was a bit extreme and will do more harm than good.

Really? You got all that from "Keeping your identity small has certainly gone out of fashion"? How? This is a serious question, I absolutely have no idea how you're getting from point A to B here.

On a topic about pronouns, is "trans identity" not the obvious meaning/aspect of "identity" here? Yes, I know the PG essay. The PG essay is great when applied to not thinking of yourself as a "X programming language developer" so you don't get too caught up in language wars that really don't matter as much as they feel like, but it's pretty offensive to use it to argue against identifying as LGBT.

As far as I can tell, no one is arguing against identifying as LGBT in any of the comments here. Try to be more charitable when reading what other people have to say.

The obvious interpretation of "'Keeping your identity small' has certainly gone out of fashion." in this context seems to me to be "caring about pronouns is a big identity; people should have smaller identities than that".

That's not necessarily saying people shouldn't be trans. The charitable reading [aside below] is that it could be saying that if they're trans, they should still expect to be disrespected and we should be fine with that.

I think that there are respectful ways to make that point. What are the exact limits to how much respect we should be expected to extend to people who defy our preconceptions of society? The line exists somewhere. But that kind of conversation should be approached with care and clarity. To just hint at that point doesn't imply a nuanced view, but implies a general disrespect to a lot of the hard-won acceptance of LGBT people.

Aside: I don't think I'm wrong calling it a charitable reading. Charity doesn't mean I'm going to think endlessly until I find a non-offensive thing it could mean; I'm still going to weight my reading by how I expect most people to have read it. Ultimately I'm publicly arguing against what other people are reading, not the intention that exists privately in the writer's mind. Even if the author just happened to think now was a good time to remind people they should avoid Ruby vs Python holy wars, it's little use for me to read it as that and respond to that if no one else is reading it that way. If people really think the critics' reading (that the critics have explained) is so off-base, there's been plenty of time by now for them and others to elaborate on whatever the intended reading really was.

I'd put it like this: "Caring about pronouns to the point where you attack someone who, for stylistic reasons, chooses not to use any pronouns at all, on a site dedicated to answering questions from almost entirely anonymous people... is a big identity; people should have smaller identities than that."

You are obscuring the details of the case to make your case and you should be ashamed.

The comment I replied to was responding to a comment that said:

> It's incredible that pronouns can bring down an entire community.

This is obviously talking about the pronouns that transgender folks identify as. Where is the disconnect?

PG has an essay with that title: http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html#f2n

I know. I don't think it fits well here.

It's not really a good essay though; it's "I'm a rich white dude who never has to think about how politics might affect me and I don't see why anyone else should either."

Sorry, I edited my comment so your reply makes less sense now. Bad habit of submitting before I'm fully satisfied with the comment.

It'll be here soon enough and it'll be interesting to see how it's handled, especially as the parties pushing for change tend to apply pressure as a group to those in authority (in our tech world, project leaders and moderators, but beyond it's appeals to universities or the media…) and flag/downvote (or worse) against those who show any dissent.

The Opal project's little kerfuffle[0] a while back comes to mind, and the subsequent adoption by several Ruby projects of the Contributor Covenant[1] (of which, it never seems to be applied to its supporters - maybe that's just me being cynical). It convinced me that the best way to go is no code of conduct (I favour the delightfully named NCoC[2]) for most projects.

[0] https://github.com/opal/opal/issues/941

[1] https://github.com/bundler/bundler/issues/3444

[2] https://github.com/domgetter/NCoC

I can't help but feel that NCoC isn't scaleable. "Let's all be reasonable" is a great strategy when a handful of people are working on something and they are all more interested in getting the job done than talking about it. But it runs straight into the fact that there actually are people - particularly in the open source community that are perfectly willing to shout abuse at other contributors until they quit: https://adtmag.com/blogs/dev-watch/2014/04/linus-torvalds-ra...

I agree. I've had other devs call me all sorts, in public, and it's not nice. One Ruby committer called me an "asshat" on his Twitter feed, simply because he failed to read my pull request properly and then seemed unable to admit it. Weird. One maintainer on another project called me a troll for opening an issue. Recently, I had one of the Rubygems maintainers be rude to me for the heinous crime of… suggesting client side validation in an issue thread! I think they have the Contributor Covenant but it doesn't seem to apply to maintainers. I get this stuff so often now I'm never surprised.

Still, like many things, it's a choice between one bad thing and one worse thing, and these "covenants" and other well-meaning straitjackets have the same old free speech arguments applicable to them - it's not nice to hear people be nasty but it's worse to have some jumped up little authoritarians choose how us plebs should be "nice" while they get free reign to be horrible.

I wonder, has Torvalds ever acted like that to people's faces?

I think the really obvious point is that there is actually a middle way. You don't need authoritarian enforcement of speech, you need communities willing to just step in and say "That's not appropriate". Someone confident and willing to just step into a Torvalds rant and say "Hi Linus, let's step away from the technical issues, this isn't the way you should be communicating your issues". Often here what we're seeing is that these bad acts are actually allowed to continue by the community and only challenged by the people at the receiving end of the attacks.

Again I agree, but that is the NCoC way.

Ben would you mind then being called she/her then if that is so silly? I'm a hetero woman and I've been called a male few times when gaming and this is not silly, people are rejecting your identity and I can't even imagine how bad this is for trans/NB people.

I run a product/community of teenage game developers. The girls in my community do not want to reveal that they are girls, probably because they do not want to stand out. So basically everyone thinks it's full of boys (especially the boys), but in reality 50% are girls. So it definitely depends on the person and circumstances how they want to be perceived.

With European names, I also saw plenty of times when wrong genders were assumed, but those things shouldn't be taken as malice. It would be weird for an adult to use that a a means for insult, so why not assume it's an honest mistake?

But that's their choice. It was used as an insult in a pretty straight forward way (I was there you know?) and I didn't mean honest mistake of guessing wrongly based on name or nickname. I have experience being told that I can not be a woman because women don't play wow on fridays.. yea or because I'm a programmer. This even wasn't a one time incident.

Alright that is pretty bad.

The same insult doesn't really work on men in that same setting, since we're not really a minority. So we're more armed against someone calling us "she".

But I can imagine it's hard to have to justify yourself every time for being a woman. Yeah that sucks, a lot of jerks out there and not much to do about it.

I stand corrected.

People are not "rejecting your identity" if they use the wrong pronoun. That is an emotional interpretation of an error.

Some people are. There are people who intentionally use the wrong pronoun, exactly because they reject someone's transgender identity. We cis-gendered people may not notice this, but to transgender people, it is every-day reality to be confronted with someone who insists on denying their identity. Consider the stupid bathroom bills in a couple of US states for example.

So against that background, it's entirely understandable that they react more emotionally also to accidental mistakes. That doesn't mean overreaction is a good idea, but it's a backlash against a long history of having their identity denied. If we don't like the backlash, maybe we should work harder to address the original hatred that it's reacting to.

You assume that was an error, based on what?

I don't think the pronoun movement is about people using the wrong gender by mistake, and that's definitely not "rejecting your identity".

I'm male, and sometimes people outside my native country misread my name and read it as the feminine version of it. I've answered phone calls and gone to appointments where people were actually expecting a woman, not a fully grown man. That's people being silly, not rejecting my identity.

But I don't want any part in this discussion, like the OP in the article, I'll keep using "they" to refer to people on the internet.

It is not a mistake when you tell someone you're female and they're saying your not, at least where I come from :)

Could all of this been avoided if SE had a field in user profiles that is basically "Please use the following pronoun when referring to me: _______"? The user could fill this in with She, He, They, Qwotzl, whatever.

You'd need to ask for at least three grammatical cases: nominative, accusative and possessive. We considered trying this a while back with our organisation's personnel tracker, but concluded it needed a disproportionate amount of user effort. So we abandoned it in favour of just stating the user's name and/or singular "they" everywhere (in line with UK GDS guidelines[1]).

[1] https://design-system.service.gov.uk/patterns/gender-or-sex/

Which is partly why I find the pronoun database at "Pronoun Island" interesting/useful because its a database of most of the common substitute pronouns and almost all of their English grammatical cases.

Though, as you determined singular "they" is a simple enough implementation without needing a database lookup and keeping a pronoun database on hand.


[ETA: It's a small shame this particular DB is AGPL, keeping it from being maximally reuseful as a shareable standard library. Though data is not code and AGPL may not technically apply, but there's no separate data license such as a CC license mentioned in the repo, so one must assume AGPL-like conditions.]

Great resource, thanks! It would be interesting to see more context for each of the entries, such as examples in published work—I certainly noticed they'd incorporated ones used by science fiction authors that I like. Though I understand that such examples may still be quite thin-on-the-ground.

Right? Like, just accept people and call them what they ask to be called? Why make a big deal out of someone who prefers they or xe or he or she or whatever?

literally not the problem here

more like people cant use Bob in an example and say He because "what if Bob is trans" comes up. cant even say "they" to be neutral because apparently "singular they" is offensive.

this is dumb. its not a real problem for the site. the rest of us dont need to deal with all that because some people have nothing better to do.

I keep seeing this notion that the singular they is offensive. I thought its whole purpose was to be more inclusive. At what point did it become offensive and why is it considered to be offensive?

I was just recently at a gender-inclusivity seminar. The speaker asked everyone in the room to give their name, but specifically asked for NOT everyone to state their [preferred?] pronouns. Why not? Apparently the speaker is currently in a community were certain transgender members feel quite strongly that stating pronouns is itself problematic and hurtful.

For those of us not quite up to date on social movements, and for slow-moving organizations, this is obviously tricky to navigate. My workplace is just starting to encourage everyone to state their "preferred pronouns" prominently when introducing themselves and on all correspondence (e.g. in email signatures), and to avoid gendered pronouns when possible in many situations or at least use "singular they" (e.g. in abstract examples or documentation). Last week I thought that was quite progressive. This week I have learned that "preferred pronouns" is no longer an acceptable phrase, that "singular they" is offensive to some, that avoiding pronouns itself is problematic (at least in SE's CoC, apparently), and that asking someone to give pronouns is problematic and hurtful to some. I don't know where that leaves me or my workplace.

It's a unbelievable that we take the output of these seminars as gospel. They are just groups of people - with no more authority on what "proper behavior" is than the rest of us.

...and yet the community that supports them vehemently punishes anyone that strays from their constantly changing and often contradictory directives.

It's not gospel, it's a view. It's useful to understand people who have a different perspective. Their view may not be universal, but it's still a valid view.

“The moon is made of cheese. Disagreeing with that causes me intense emotional distress so no ‘decent person’ would do so.”

Are any views invalid?

Just do the best you can, try to be respectful of everybody, and be understanding when someone is not unhappy or offended. It's not something that needs to be a fight.

when its getting to the point that its turning into hr classes and laws that get you fired or jailed for being in the 99.9% of the population then yea people should fight back against it all

You obviously shouldn't be (and aren't) getting fired or jailed for being in whatever percentage of the population. But if people are going out of their way to hurt a minority, then something needs to be done to stop it. That's what those laws and HR classes should be addressing.

And if that's the thing you intend to be fighting, then yes, you've got a fight. But this shouldn't be a fight. Respecting people for their differences should be a normal part of being a decent person.

define hurt. you cant just make up rules. people can say whatever they want. its free speech and its important. and are you seriously ignoring all the people who do get fired and jailed? lol wait till it happens to you

i find your comment offensive so youre banned for life from the internet. is that what you want? or should my offense be my own problem? ill let you figure out which one is better

> "define hurt."

In this context, intentionally denying people their identity. Those bathroom bills that force people to use the wrong bathroom, for example. But anyone who insists on calling a transgender woman "he" or a transgender man "she", even after having been corrected, is intentionally hurting them. It's intentionally being an asshole to someone.

> "you cant just make up rules."

We can do. Hopefully after some careful deliberation, or you end up with stupid rules like those bathroom bills, but yes, rules get made all the time.

That doesn't mean we should legislate everything. We can't and shouldn't. But what should and shouldn't get legislated, or captured in less formal community rules, is an ongoing discussion.

> "and are you seriously ignoring all the people who do get fired and jailed? lol wait till it happens to you"

I'm not. Lots of people are indeed getting fired and jailed for being LBGTQ, belonging to the wrong minority, etc. But nobody is getting fired or jailed for belonging to a demographic that is 99.9% of the population.

> "i find your comment offensive so youre banned for life from the internet."

There's a massive difference between accidentally offending someone, and going out of your way to offend. I'm addressing the latter. If we manage to address that, it becomes easier to assume that the offenses we do experience were not intentional.

It is tricky, yeah. Everyone has their own preferences, and no one set of rules will apply 100% to everyone. And, unfortunately, some people are simply acting in bad faith.

There was a discussion a few days ago about how a few people say that the terms "assigned male/female at birth" should apply only to intersex people and the trans community appropriated them. But if you look into it, you find that the trans community invented those terms, and the people who originated the claim are outspoken transphobes who want to invalidate trans people in any way they can. And there's probably some well-meaning people who were taken by those assholes, unfortunately. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21139083

At the end of the day, all you can do is respect people's individual wishes when they express them, and when they don't, go with the consensus and try to extend the benefit of the doubt. Someone who's been hassled and harassed their whole life is gonna be high-strung about some things; you don't need to agree with them, but give them a little slack when you can.

Edit: I'm curious what their rationale for asking people not to state their pronouns was. I can't think of any way that could benefit anyone. Do you recall what they said exactly?

this is the problem cause 99.9% of us know how to get along just fine without these weird pronoun rules

theyre literally making EVERYONE work harder and waste time to not offend a single person who probably doesnt even agree with these rules

this article was posted here a while back:


I thought it was quite interesting.


Calling people what they want to be called is not "enslaving your speech and thought."

no its not

but FORCING people to use those words or be fined or banned or jailed is definitely tyranny

Being required to behave civilly at work is not "tyranny." I don't know where you got "fined or jailed" from.

When they say “speak and act exactly like we tell you to, when we tell you to, or else”, it does not sound like a very voluntary regime.

It's not. People are having a hard time adjusting and overreacting. It's only a problem if you using singular they specifically and only for trans folk, ie singling them out.

Quite literally, Monica said she avoids singular pronouns in general, not just for any particular group or person, because she doesn't feel that singular pronouns are required to moderate a community in most cases. That was the problem that lead to firing her and starting an undercover witch hunt, with SO leaking private chat excerpts and talking to media to bash her.

This isn't about singling anybody out with pronouns.

thats not a problem either. you cant force people to say anything.

You can't "force" people to say things, but it's still a problem when people are deliberately insulting, obviously.

The problem is a very small minority within the trans community assuming everything is a targeted attack when people are actually just acting naturally, living their lives.

Everyone shouldn’t have to adapt to appease the 0.0001% hyper-sensitive. That’s not a reasonable proposition.

when you stop forcing people to do things then theyll be much nicer in dealing with you

none of the pronouns are offensive and we use the ones that fit 99% of the time but they is fine if you really want to be neutral

its only offensive if you listen to the 1 in a million people who want to make a big deal and control everyone elses speech

> apparently "singular they" is offensive

I think the point was that 'singular they is offensive' only when people have specifically asked for certain pronouns (ie you're blatantly disregarding people's requests)?

except this is a code example on the site

im not going to write bob and alice and then worry about "well what if these fake people in this example i made up are actually trans" lol give me a break.

Agreed. If you're the author and Alice and Bob are the imaginary characters in your example, then you get to decide their gender.

Same as an author who is writing a novel, is free to invent characters and assign gender, sexual orientation, and any other character traits they want.

It's your story, they are your characters. You decide if it's a he, she, xe, or whatever.

You certainly haven't been keeping up with Twitter culture if you think this.

twitter culture is outrage culture. its a bunch of maniacs yelling at each other and they should all be ignored

Should, but aren't. That's the problem.

its the same people that are on twitter and then go to work and school and bring this with them. they should be ignored in real life too but nobody wants to deal with the hysterical accusations from the far left

What is this "Twitter culture" you're talking about? Could you sum it up?

most people on twitter and a lot of the verified people basically police each other for how "woke" they can be with social justice

and if anyone steps out of line against the insane number of rules about who you might slightly offend then you get mobbed and "cancelled" by being called a racist/sexist/bigot/transphobe/nazi and whatever cool word is in use until you lose your job and lifestyle and are permanently branded a terrible person

“Bob, a cis heteronormative middle aged white man from Seattle, wants to send a message to Alice, a bicurious housewife from Kentucky”

The other side can view it similar to past bigotry in history. It's unfortunate when people in society don't blend in for the correct pronouns to be used automatically and even more distasteful when other people dismiss the effort of an unfortunate person in trying to liv life without being reminded by others showing no care in the world for the person. In any case I doubt stack exchange will be hurt by this conflict.

I don’t understand why gender/pronouns is even being discussed. Someone’s personal feelings don’t really have any place in a question/answers site. It’s fine to respect a persons feelings and such when talking to a person but when answering a question or asking the question. The gender/pronoun is irrelevant.

The folks moderating SE are very pedantic about the wording of passages. Once I called SE a "forum", and I was politely told not to call SE a "forum". I would really hate to be a person that is not very fluent in English and trying to interact with SE.

One of my latest questions got as first comment : "Please use English punctuation when writing in English."

Certainly polite but a bit jarring as a non-native speaker that feels fluent. Also a bit nonsensically-bureaucratic : I made the mistake because I didn't know any better, after the comment I still couldn't correct the mistake because I still didn't know any better, I wasn't even sure what rule of punctuation I had wronged.

I would've preferred a direct edit instead of a comment prompting though I guess that can be seen as worse by some people.

> ... nonsensically-bureaucratic : I ...

Maybe you put a space before a colon, and the eagle-eyed moderator spotted it :-)

(English rarely has a space before a punctuation mark — except for a dash in British usage. Americans—I think—do this.)

Yeah exactly, in French for example you put a space before a colon, a question mark, exclamation mark, while in English you don't, it is quite hard to spot for a lot of people.

OP is about someone who is extremely fluent in English, an expert in the eyes of the community, who was kicked out pecificaly for the sin of trying to interact with SE in fluent English.

It's confusing to me too. Very clearly this is a battle for which there are only losers and no winners.

Regardless of what SE should do with pronouns, a mod shouldn't get fired for clarifying

+1. Couldn't agree more!

This is not the first time nor this is specific to SO. Here[0] is another occurrence of something similar to those interested.


SE's management with this rule is disarming any discussion on the matter a priori, thus avoiding any complication for itself.

Because for a lot of people part of their identity is wrapped up in how offended they can be and expressing it out loud.

> We are disappointed with the lack of responsiveness to community concerns. On Meta Stack Exchange, bug reports, feature and support requests go unacknowledged, sometimes for months or years, and some excellent posts never receive a staff response. Meanwhile, there have been cases when staff have responded to complaints on Twitter almost immediately, taking action without due process and without consulting with the impacted sites.

It’s sad that more and more companies ignore normal support channels (a very well established and proven one in SE’s case) and only answer to Twitter shaming. For one thing, it’s very unfair to those of us who don’t (otherwise) use Twitter — I have to keep an account just for tech support, and even then I highly doubt my requests are valued as much as ones from accounts with 10k or more followers.

This reminds me of the time when stack exchange updated their terms of service to include an arbitration clause. The community was in uproar over this decision, yet the clause stands to this day.


Stack overflow's terms of service is pretty terrible, receiving the worst rank in terms of user hostility on TOS;DR.


That hardly seems fair. For 99.99% of users everything they do on the site is publically available. There is no private messaging, no private anything. The entire history of everything on all sites being public is one of the explicit goals of the site. So "sharing with 3rd parties" means absolutely nothing. Those 3rd parties could scrape the site or they could download the archive.


It doesn't seem like they should be marked as having a poor TOS for at least half the things listed as those things are basically the known purpose of the site.

This simply isn't true - your most sensitive information is not public, yet is shared with 3rd parties. From their privacy policy:

"We collect location information about you including your IP address, your location, browser information, and how you came to the Stack Overflow Network."

(SO also collects your email address, interests, and employment status upon registration - this is not mentioned specifically in the privacy policy)

"This is the case for individuals who have registered for an account, and non-members who engage with the Stack Overflow Network by visiting our website(s) but who have not completed an account registration."

"We share this information with certain third-parties (e.g., talent recruiters, payment processors, and advertising providers)"


I remember when Stack Exchange was about fixing broken code.

Stack Exchange started a lot of other sites on the side.

Some of them are about religions, and that brings on politics. Since religion and politics are intertwined.







Don't forget Politics StackExchange! - https://politics.stackexchange.com/

Politics have crept into every aspect of life unfortunately.

Politics is part of every human endeavor: between kids on the playground, in the workplace, at the level of local, regional, national, and international governments and businesses.

Politics and the negotiation of status and access between various in and out groups is a fundamental part of being human.

Thank you. There is a tendency in tech people to dismiss politics as less than important ("just politics", "just political"). It's a fundamental part of our social fabric.

Looking at everything in life through the lens of politics is certainly possible, but it will probably make you unhappy.

Simler & Hanson provide a pretty solid explanatory framework: http://elephantinthebrain.com/

Have only read parts of that, but describing attributes to human nature mostly fails to do so and attaches them to the author instead.

No, not everything is political. From that perspective you could substitute the term politics with "battle for share", which can be political, but doesn't encompass the whole set of politics. You can even generalize that further and it gets more primitive along the way:

"Every day is a battle for survival"

Of course it is political play to attach attributes to groups and then highlighting fault lines. But it is the most primitive form of what many people call politics.

And since it doesn't accomplish anything productive, many people have the need to remove politics from platforms like SE, because they just see it as a distraction to the topic at hand and is pitting people against each other. Pronouns do that, most of the gender discussion does that and now we have also started a new discussions about racism that won't net positive results.

All because some people crave some validation? Maybe that is not always the case, but it seems that people wanted a conflict and that is what they got.

> No, not everything is political

Name literally anything and I will point out its political implications.

That would not constitute proof. But to humor you and me, what about cornflakes?

The food literally created due to political beliefs?

"The story of corn flakes goes back to the late 19th century, when a team of Seventh-day Adventists began to develop new foods to adhere to the vegetarian diet recommended by the church. Members of the group experimented with a number of different grains, including wheat, oats, rice, barley and maize. In 1894, John Harvey Kellogg, the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan and an Adventist, used these recipes as part of a strict vegetarian regimen for his patients, which also included no alcohol, tobacco or caffeine. The diet he imposed consisted entirely of bland foods. A follower of Sylvester Graham, the man cited as inspiration of graham crackers and graham bread, Kellogg believed that spicy or sweet foods would increase passions." [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_flakes

Cornflakes? Not very hard.

It is related to GMO (genetically modified maize), maize/corn, large (subsidized?) agriculture in US, life stock feed (which one can argue is inefficient), high fructose corn syrup.

(Took me 5 minutes to come up with that, by just reading Wikipedia.)

I have no stake in this discussion, but man, anything to do with Corn is a minefield.


Number theory!

Some Christian fundamentalists oppose modern set theory, which is an integral part of number theory: https://boingboing.net/2012/08/07/what-do-christian-fundamen...

Not sure, there must be something related to politics at the Wikipedia number theory page [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_theory

I love the comments stating "everything is political", is there a book that can convince and help delibrately build better politics?

Politics is how our society has wars. It is vastly less destructive than hot wars but exactly the same as far as being based on what you can get away with rather than what is right or rational.



I think wyclif means casual users, who want to participate in SE community by answering questions.

Yes, that's exactly what I meant. Ordinary techies and devs who come for answers and aren't invested in the culture and politics of SE because they may not know much about it.

Honest Question: Why continue to support stack exchange through this? They have shown themselves to be disingenuous at best. They are now profiting off free labor. They started it because ExpertsExchange was hiding answers. They rode the high horse to hypocrisy.

Why continue helping people like that succeed?

Why not just start a new one? Leave en masse to a new playground. Speak with your answers.

Show the powers that be they can't treat the sharecroppers like this anymore.

Hasn't history shown the way? It's repeating itself all over this controversy.

Is this an inevitability? How can this be prevented?

It feels like the issue regarding Monica is just the issue we are all talking about, but ultimately, it goes much deeper.

Unfortunately StackExchange fell into the trap of trying to support social justice warriorisms.

Either they will fold or they will come to realize that the only ways to deal with users that are preoccupied with genders, religion, sexual orientations and whatever protected class they can come up with are to lose them or ignore them. You can’t go along with their demands because there will always be a new demand, each one crazier and more irrelevant than the last one.

I'm curious as to what part of the issue was about "social justice warriorisms", especially since Monica herself and most of the other mods who resigned were okay with the principle of calling people by the pronoun they prefer to be called by.

Perhaps my reading of the situation is way off, but at the risk of making a fool of myself:

My understanding is that Monica wanted to use gender neutral pronouns throughout her writing as a general case, but that this was deemed "not good enough" (or indeed hateful) in the cases where someone has chosen specific pronouns. So I suppose this is what the GP is referring to. And I can't argue that it seems like a rather extreme position - although I'm happy to be persuaded otherwise.

That is what this is about? There is something wrong with the way our culture is shifting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Monica's choice. It is literally the most pacifist choice you could make. Anyone who feels "harmed" by her choice is only harming themselves.

I care deeply about social justice, and I'm totally on Monica's side here. Even more so because as far as anyone can tell, she wasn't even violating a CoC yet, and would probably have followed it if it was sufficiently clarified. But at the most basic level, I feel gender-neutral language should always be okay.

In fact, I think it would be healthy if language in general developed in a more gender-neutral direction. We don't use special pronouns to divide people based on other characteristics, so why gender?

It was a matter of one party being insufficiently SJWist for another party. SJWism is a continuum, not a binary.

I've read elsewhere that if a radical lives long enough he'll eventually be chastised for being insufficiently radical. I don't know if it's true, but I for one will find it hilarious in a decade or two when today's SJWs are having to apologise for deriding the idea of human-animal marriage or for opposing lettuce rights in the backwards years of 2019. Or will, anyway, if I haven't died in a re-education camp by then.

I consider myself a 90’s Clinton-era progressive, which means I’m pretty much dead to the 2019-era left. Just like Reagan-era conservatives are unrecognizable to “true conservatives” today. The camps are moving so extremely to each side it’s hard to identify with anyone politically anymore.

>Why continue to support stack exchange through this?

To exploit the new rules and demand everyone refer to you by your preferred pronoun of "God". If you're into that kind of thing.

"Master" would also work well. Or "Daddy" if you're into that kind of thing. Hmm, I'm starting to actually like this policy...

"Don't confine me within your normative definition of 'pronoun'!"

SO has so much information already, I think it would be frustrating for people to have to walk away from it and start from scratch, and a huge loss to the community (or anyone who has ever googled "how to do X in lang Y"). However when your community is built on top of a VC-funded for-profit company this is always a risk you take. Maybe the only solution is starting over with a non-profit model.

> I think it would be frustrating for people to have to walk away from it and start from scratch

All the StackExchange Q&A content is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike license (CC BY-SA). You can start your own website and use all the content. The only sense in which you'd be starting over is with building the community; the existing questions and answers are free to use.


Didn't know that - thanks!

what do you mean by support? I google and sometimes use their content and that's it. There are other sources.

By support I mean, continue to moderate their website for them. Answer questions for them. Ask questions of them.

Continue to give them time and help them create the product they are going to sell to someone else and keep all the money for themselves.

And also support by voicing concerns. Showing them what their user base wants when they clearly don't care what their user base wants, only what they want in their wallet.

I ask questions there because I get good answers quickly. Sometimes I see questions in my field of expertise and I answer them. Which other site should I go to instead to have that?

This is the last straw for me. The ads were also out of control.

Real documentation is better anyway!

> Real documentation is better anyway!

If SO was the alternative to real documentation to you, you’re probably part of the reason why SO quality has declined so much and why moderation got heavy-handed over time, with collateral damage: lazy ass users asking RTFM / I-can-haz-code questions.

(Years ago I answered questions for a while on SO, accumulated a few thousand points, and participated in modding queues. I know how bad the bottom 30% or more of SO questions are.)

Even with the quality slipping from the early days I think it's quite remarkable how high the quality is when you consider the distribution of quality of questions that get posted. The low quality review queue on stack overflow is just brutal. Part of what makes it a good resource is that the worst of the questions just don't get seen by many people.

It's terribly sad that StackExchange is less likely to respond to a well-reasoned argument by informed and invested moderators like this than a pack of idiots on Twitter hooting for blood. Cancel-culture is cancer.

This is totally sad. I really wonder how a company could publish a year ago in 2018 "Our Theory of Moderation, Re-visited.":

> Trust people. > Supporting people should be your default reaction

and then a year later be in this current state.

Worse is, SE seems to unable to reactify the situation in a meaninful and trustful way.

Shouldn’t the CTO fire the person who was directly responsible for firing Monica? Why isn’t that part of it?

Because if you read the apology, he's actually backing her up. The "apology" is a lot better written than the terrible thing that was posted a day or so ago, but it is STILL essentially "We're sorry that you are upset."

It's not an apology. AFAICT the facts of the matter haven't changed here at all.

I see firing in such a case as a cop-out, a cowardly way to appease mob-mentality.

In this case if the employee responsible for firing the moderator did such acts repeatedly despite management warnings than perhaps it's a good idea to fire that person. However this doesn't seem to be the case, the CTO correctly assumed responsibility in his apology of green-lighting the moderator's firing.

He does the right thing, in my opinion, by promising a better process that wouldn't lead to such a hurtful (and seemingly unfair) dismissal.

You don't fire an employee for mistakenly deleting your production database, you update your process so this cannot happen (at least not by accident).

In some cases, that is true. In other cases, it is an important part of removing a toxic element from your organization.

There are some people who refuse to behave in the best interests of the group, no matter how much direction you give them.

...but you are correct that they are often only one part of the problem. Then again, often firing them will motivate some of their supporters to quit.

I imagine that was the impetus behind firing Monica, so perhaps turnabout is fair play.

> if the employee responsible for firing the moderator did such acts repeatedly despite management warnings than perhaps it's a good idea to fire that person

> There are some people who refuse to behave in the best interests of the group, no matter how much direction you give them

I think we agree on this.

If an employee refuses to change behaviour despite multiple warnings he/her is fair game for dismissal. However I think firing someone without prior warnings is abusive unless it's for something criminal or malicious. You can probably guess that I don't care much for at-will employment...

because she has 46k Twitter followers and the company fears Twitter above all else

Not sure I understand - who is she that you're referring to?

Sara Chipps.

Because the person responsible for firing Monica is "just doing their job", which is aligned with the political agenda.

Deciding to fire someone in such a questionable and unusual manner is never "just doing their job". Someone made a really poor call here, and is trying to excuse it with accusations and events that never seem to have happened.

That combination, and the fact that it resulted in a major scandal for SE, makes it absolutely justifiable to fire the person responsible.

It's only because the events got out of hand, not because of the action per se. The same person has been doing this for many more cases where it was just fine and this is perfectly clear by the tone of the CTO.

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