Read this if you haven't...

https://stackoverflow.blog/2018/04/26/stack-overflow-isnt-very-welcoming-its-time-for-that-to-change/

This has been an opinion of mine here, that we are not always friendly or welcoming. I see us as not always that helpful, and we don't make an effort to provide useful information to guide those that don't know as much as we do.

So...

Read the article. Look at it from the perspective of how this particular stack feels, not necessarily to you (people who participate more), but to the general larger community of users here.

Here are the primary points the blog brings up...

  1. Let’s shift from “don’t be an asshole” to “be welcoming.”
  2. Let’s do something about comments.
  3. Let’s make it easier for new users to succeed.
  4. Let’s stop judging users for not knowing things.
  5. Let’s reject the false dichotomy between quality and kindness.

If you look at how our stack behaves, numbers 3, 4, and 5 are where we can do our best to improve. This line particularly resonated with me, as I've precisely seen it happen here...

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

So, how do we make it better here?

  • 4
    Well that's a great start - I bring this up and I get downvoted... – Tim Holt Apr 27 at 5:27
  • 3
    Do you have specific recent examples of where you think the community has been particularly unfriendly or unwelcoming? – Josh Apr 27 at 13:26
  • 2
    Or, if it’s more that you agree that the issues brought up in that article are prevalent here, which of them do you feel is the most problematic? Which do you feel would benefit from some kind of directed community approach versus each user individually looking at his or her behavior? – Josh Apr 27 at 14:02
  • It might help for everyone to clarify who/what is meant by community, us & we. StackExchange in general? GD.SE specifically? – Pikalek Apr 27 at 15:18
  • 1
    I'm looking for discussion about the article, not my personal beliefs. And yes, I do agree with it. And reading it, I do see examples of behaviors they cite which I believe exist here. Focusing on specific posts is not the point of my question, focusing on the larger ask of the article for change is. – Tim Holt Apr 27 at 16:43
  • Without specific issues I can't think of how to respond other than "yes, this sounds good, let's do it" (and I'm about to post an answer to that effect). But I'd still be interested in hearing about the circumstances that held you to that opinion prior to reading this article; unraised issues can easily go unaddressed. If your concern is about "naming names" or similar, I can set up a moderated chat to buffer the specifics, if you'd like. – Josh Apr 27 at 16:46
  • I am amused that you picked the opposite set of bullet points than me for "things we can focus on here specifically." :P – Josh Apr 27 at 16:54
  • Heh yea I just edited them into my question just as you were writing your answer :) – Tim Holt Apr 27 at 16:55
  • 1
    You're right about the "don't answer off-topic questions" comment though; we should probably stop doing that / start discouraging it. It hadn't really occurred to me before, but now that I think about it it does feel very much like the old "fix your accept rate" commentary we'd get when SE showed an asker's accept rate... which they rightly got rid of. – Josh Apr 27 at 16:56
  • 1
    Here's a meta post from 2014 that covers this a bit. I basically still agree with that answer. gamedev.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1601/… – Tim Holt Apr 27 at 17:03

That blog has, in the "Getting to the <3 of the problem" section, a good series of calls-to-action. Summarized aggressively, they are:

  • Let’s shift from “don’t be an asshole” to “be welcoming.”
  • Let’s do something about comments. Condescension and sarcasm have been reluctantly tolerated in comments for too long.
  • Let’s make it easier for new users to succeed.
  • Let’s stop judging users for not knowing things.
  • Let’s reject the false dichotomy between quality and kindness.

All of these are great.

But they all have to be individual choices on the part of the people actively engaging with the site. Short of having the community moderators handle flags when things get particularly out of alignment from those guidelines (as we currently do), it's hard for me to see what an actual, actionable community project (like the MathJax one) or policy change would be here. Everyone should just try to keep these things in mind.

For my part, the two things that stick out to me the most in the article in terms of how they manifest on this site are the first two bullet points. In any community there's a schism that eventually develops between the "old guard" who have been around a long time, and the newer, potentially more transient population of neophyte participants. The users who have been around a long time have a lot of experience to pass on, but that experience can also introduce a level of jadedness that can easily come out as (unintentionally or not) a sense of entitlement regarding the rules or a condescending air. I think trying to be especially mindful of that is something we can all do here.

I have only been in this forum for research so I don't know of any problems that have happened here. However I have been an active participant in Stack Overflow for over six years. I'm in the top 23% percentile for reputation. I've been in technology for a long time so I'm used to arrogant engineers and know how to forcefully handle them. I also have a lot of experience in consulting where you learn how to communicate with users that may not have experience in technology in order to provide the best product for them. You don't show off or be condescending to them if you want to have a good reputation for years to come.

When I first joined Stack Overflow I only used my company name but a while back decided to add my name to my profile when I was looking for work in the careers section. I began to notice more and more hostile responses, including downvotes within a minute or two of posting something even when I made it clear that I was beginning to learn something. I was not sure if the problem was a change in the moderators or if I was dealing with bias. I still ask questions there when I need to but I'm on guard at times just wondering if I'm going to have someone demean me for something. I am a female of color. For now I will only use my company logo and may remove my name from the profile until this issue is more under control.

This blog post is a good step forward acknowledging a problem that they were not willing to do in the past. If this is not resolved this could jeopardize future funding as many are no longer tolerating this kind of behavior and will go elsewhere if they are not respected.

This blog post IMO ignores some fundamentals facts about SE

  • The site is "elitist" by its very own design: Best questions, Best answers. It's not an bug, it's a feature.
  • The site is much different from chats, reddit, and other forums as it is not meant primarily for discussions and this causes misunderstandings with new users.
  • New users who don't read the rules and jump right in may be more likely to take personal offence when the rules are tersely pointed out or questions closed.
  • In any fields we only hear the squeaky wheels. <3
  • Inevitably on all SE sites it will become more and more difficult and frustrating to find good questions that haven't been asked in one form or another.

<3

Unless someone comes forward with examples of clear hostility that is not dealt with (especially sexist and racist one as the article implies) I'd rather apply Hitchens's Razor, and a variant of Hanlon's Razor.

Hitchens's Razor: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence" There are no proof provided<3, just claims (hearsay) of complaints by newcomers.

Hanlon's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by s̶t̶u̶p̶i̶d̶i̶t̶y̶ having to constantly deal with people not reading the rules.

And yes, this is the internet: there are A-holes! A few easily banned<3 bad-apples doesn't demonstrate a rampant problem.

A few jerks doesn't mandate we all start walking on egg-shells and post with little <3 to not hurt the very most sensitives who might not feel welcome enough.

( <3 <--- following the EVP of Culture and Experience's example. Don't hate: It wouldn't be very welcoming of you.)

We won't be able to get anything done right if we have to do all this to not accidentally hurt someone's feeling.

From the post itself: enter image description here

And we're all unpaid volunteer: I feel (see how this works?) that it's borderline entitled of SO to demand (and I feel it's a demand, and you can't question the validity of my feelings, no you're not allowed to. "you're done.") we be more welcoming without even any objective proof of an major rampant problem.

Especially compared to the total number of users, questions, and answers.

And I feel the <3 in my post are warranted to drive the point. -Reductio ad absurdum If his blog post is to be the example to follow and all feelings have to be considered valid without questioning as is argued for in EVP of Culture and Experience's blog post.


PS: This whole "feelings" thing is a downward spiral ripe for abuse where disingenuous people will just bully others by cries and complaints and we'll all be dealing with more drama than is worth.

Good people will leave because who wants to deal with all that drama? (Other than other drama-addicts).

  • I take a few issues with this. 1. I don't agree that quality and friendliness are a zero-sum game, and that any efforts to improve friendliness must necessarily reduce quality. One could argue that a more welcoming community will tend to attract and retain more users to collaboratively edit & improve what we have. 2. I don't agree that we lack evidence of a problem. I brought this up in the Election Q&A with some additional links for further reading. 3. I think you've misunderstood the use of feelings here. (continued...) – DMGregory May 4 at 12:26
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    You seem to take this to mean "if someone says they feel X is Y then we know X is Y" - but that's not the way it's used in the source. The source uses it to say "If someone says they feel X, then we know they feel X" - ie. feelings matter when what you're concerned about is users' feelings. If a user feels a site is unwelcoming, then they're not likely to participate, and that has concrete reality. That matters to our ability to attract and retain users and scale our community. It's not giving feelings power to trump all considerations - it's recognizing that how we are perceived matters. – DMGregory May 4 at 12:30
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    But that is the crux of the problem. We don't know if their feelings are valid. Some people really feel there are lizard-people out to get them. This guy seem to think we're just being condescending and I quote: " I know what branching is. I'm glad you're teaching the children about branching" gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/158173/… There ALWAYS will be people who "FEEL" under attack no matter how welcoming and nice we are. Without any concrete data to evaluate we can't assume the validity of the complaints that are just hearsay from SE right now. – Stephane Hockenhull May 4 at 17:27
  • [Some unknown number of people feel unhappy, and just believe us when we (SE) say so without a shred of data.] isn't a good enough metric for a call to action. On a site with a immense number of visitors some are bound to be unhappy. – Stephane Hockenhull May 4 at 17:36
  • And conversely: On a site with a immense number of visitors some are bound to be legit total jerks. That's life and nothing that can be improved upon. We can kick them out and we should also kick out the equally toxic always-upset-I-thinks-everyones-hate-me people. Perfect is the enemy of good. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_is_the_enemy_of_good – Stephane Hockenhull May 4 at 17:47

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