Last week, Stack Overflow users took to its Meta site to express their concern regarding the communication breakdown between the site and its community. The users highlighted that Stack Overflow has repeatedly failed at consulting the community before coming up with a major change recent being removal of the “Hot Meta Posts” section.
“It has become a trend that changes (“features”) are pushed out without any prior consultation. Then, in the introductory meta post of said change, push-back is shown by the community and as a result, once again, everyone is left with a bad taste in their mouth from another sour experience,” a user wrote.
The backlash comes after Stack Overflow announced last week that it is removing the “Hot Meta Posts” section from its right sidebar. This section listed questions picked semi-randomly every 20 minutes from all posts scoring 3 or more and posted within the past two weeks. As an alternative, moderators can highlight important posts with the help of the “featured” tag.
Some of the reasons that it cited for removing this feature were that Meta hasn’t scaled very well since its introduction and the questions on the “Hot Meta Posts” section does not really look ideal for attracting new people. Sara Chipps, an Engineering Manager at StackOverflow, further said that the feature was also affecting the well-being of Stack Overflow employees. “Stack Overflow Employees have panic attacks and nightmares when they know they will need to post something to Meta. They are real human beings that are affected by the way people speak to them. This is outside of the CM team, who have been heroes and who I constantly see abused here,” she wrote.
Earlier this month, Stack Overflow faced a similar backlash when it updated its home page. Many users were upset that the page was giving more space to Stack Overflow’s new proprietary products while hiding away the public Q&A feature, which is the main feature Stack Overflow is known for. The company apologized and acted on the feedback.
However, users think that this has become a routine. A user added, “It’s almost as though you (the company, not the individual) don’t care about the users (or, from a cynic’s perspective, are actively trying to push out the old folks to make way for the new direction SO is headed in) who have been participating for the best part of a decade.”
Some users felt that Stack Overflow does consult with users but not out in the open. “I think they are consulting the community, they’re just doing it non publicly and in a different forum, via external stakeholders and interested people on external channels, via data science, and via research interviews and surveys from the research list,“ a user commented.
Yaakov Ellis, a developer in the Community dev team at Stack Overflow, assured that Stack Overflow is committed to making the community feel involved. It has no intention to cease the interaction between the company and the community. However, he did admit that there is “internal anxiety” to be more open to the community about the different projects and initiatives. He listed the following reasons:
- Plans can change, and it is more awkward to do that when it is under the magnifying glass of community discussion.
- Functionality being worked on can change direction.
- Some discussions and features may not be things that the Meta community will be big fans of. And even if we believe that these items are for the best, there will also be times when (with the best intentions), as these decisions have been made after research, data, and users have been consulted, the actual direction is not up for discussion. We can’t always share those for privacy purposes, and this causes the back and forth with objectors to be difficult.
He further said that there is a need to reset some expectations regarding what happens with the feedback provided by the users. “We value it, and we absolutely promise to listen to all of it […], but we can’t always take the actions that folks here might prefer. We also can’t commit to communicating everything in advance, especially when we know that we’re simply not open to feedback about certain things, because that would be wasting people’s time.