Blog: January 2020

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Done with Stack Exchange

I can't do this any more.

I posted the following on Mi Yodeya, with very similar posts on Worldbuilding, Writing, and Meta. (Do check out the question that that Meta post is an answer to, too.)


I write this post with tears literally in my eyes.

Though it pains me deeply to leave my communities, especially Mi Yodeya which I cherish and have helped build for close to nine years, I have decided I must leave the Stack Exchange network.

I became an SE user when Mi Yodeya launched in 2011. For most of the time since then I've been an enthusiastic participant and power user on the SE network. I evangelized SE to friends and colleagues. I almost became an employee. The SE platform did, right, things that other sites did wrong. It was a great place to be, and I built strong community connections and learned a lot. Over time SE the company paid less and less attention to us, which was sometimes frustrating, but we got by even with benign neglect.

Then things began to change. In spring 2018, a single blog post scared someone at SE enough to kick off a new "welcoming" initiative. I was concerned by how they approached it but wanted to believe in the goal nonetheless. A few months later, in October 2018, a single angry tweet prompted hasty changes and public criticism in tweets from employees, which led me to write Dear Stack Overflow, we need to talk.

I remember somebody at the time saying something like "she's too invested in that relationship; he's just not into her". I wasn't listening. I was too into SE, even as others began to leave.

I really wanted to believe that SE wasn't that bad, just a little misguided. SE whispered sweet nothings in our ears, made promises to us that I desperately wanted to believe. I stayed, blind to the warning signs.

Things did not, in fact, get better. Already an employee had admitted that the company was no longer paying attention to feedback from core users, and in July 2019 another advised employees to avoid meta because it upset them. We users were in a relationship with someone who had checked out, stopped listening, seemingly stopped caring about us.

I stayed anyway, because I really love my communities (and maybe I'm too susceptible to the sunk-costs fallacy). When I saw that post in July, a part of me thought we could nonetheless still effect change, could help get things onto a better, collaborative path. I thought we users could mend the rifts in our collective relationship with SE despite evidence that SE wasn't interested. I didn't see the warning signs because I didn't want to see them.

As a dedicated user, I stayed in an abusive relationship for the sake of the kids. I told myself that it would be ok in the end, that it didn't hurt that much, that it was only a bruise.

Sometimes it takes a powerful blow to finally wake up. For me that blow came two weeks ago today.

On January 13, SE abruptly fired Shog9 and Robert Cartaino. Shog9 and Robert, along with Jon Ericson who left a few days later, were long-serving community managers who really get the communities. They were our champions. What we didn't know until recently is that they were being hobbled, forbidden to do what they do so well, forbidden to help us. They, too, were helpless, and Shog and Robert paid a dear price.

We can only expect the rate of damage to accelerate. As a long-time user, I remember what was and know what could have been. Today, our communities are being deeply harmed instead of being helped and supported. It's worse than just being abandoned; we are not allowed to govern ourselves and not allowed to be helped by the dwindling community team.

The company has chosen to go down a very different path from the one I thought we were on. I have lost any hope that this will change. I've passed through denial, hurt, anger, and bargaining, and have now arrived at tearful acceptance. I can't change this. It's painful to keep trying. I give up.

I dearly love my communities here, but, sadly, I can't bear to stay on Stack Exchange any longer.

Our communities are much more than the platform that hosts them. The people are what matters. I hope I can stay connected to the fine people of my communities even if I don't do it here any longer. SE wasn't the first Q&A platform and it won't be the last. Just as Stack Overflow was created out of dissatisfaction with another platform, other platforms will be created out of dissatisfaction with SE. I hope to see y'all in a better place, one we'll build together putting communities and people first. I'll refrain from specific links here after seeing an employee spam-delete a post on Writing Meta about another site, but -- look around.

I've added contact information to my profile, and I've posted some information about my future plans. I won't be deleting my accounts.

I'll almost certainly look in on Mi Yodeya from time to time, maybe even visit chat. Goodbyes are hard and I would dearly love to stay in touch with the people here, somehow. I hope we'll reunite elsewhere.

Be kind to each other. Protect yourselves. Remember Shog and Robert, maybe even me. Let's stay in touch.

Looking back at Usenet

Steven Bellovin, one of the creators of Usenet 40 years ago, has written a retrospective and history of the project. I've actually had this open in a tab for a while; when I first came across it about half the articles had been posted and there were placeholders for the rest. He's now finished it.

This is a mix of technical and political history. At the time I was using it (I gained access around 1983, I think), I didn't know any of the background; to me as a student, ARPANet and Usenet were just two different networks that moved stuff around. (My experience of ARPANet at the time was limited to mailing lists.) I knew that Usenet was decentralized (unlike ARPANet, a government network), but I didn't at the time know the extent to which it was put together by a scrappy band of grad students with limited resources and an attitude of "it's easier to ask forgiveness than get permission". Or so it seems to me in reading this series of posts, anyway.

I learned a lot about the behavior of networked communities on Usenet. I made lots of mistakes, of course; I mean, not only was it a new concept to me, but I was an undergrad without a lot of broad, cultural experience outside my own. And even though I was a bumbling student learning the ropes, I could participate alongside everyone else there -- what you wrote and how well you communicated mattered a lot more than who you were. I -- a lowly undergrad and relative newcomer -- was taken seriously by the architects in planning the Great Renaming. Later the New Yorker would publish that famous cartoon about how on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog; even before that, I had already learned that on Usenet nobody knows (or cares) that you're an undergrad, or insert-demographic-here, or whatever. In retrospect, this might have been somewhat formative for me online.

Technologies change and communities change. Spammers got more aggressive, some of the communities I participated on either scattered or moved elsewhere, and the web emerged as a new way of interacting online. I preferred mailing lists to web forums (because email is push and web sites are pull; this was before syndication was a thing), and then I discovered blogs and LiveJournal. I gradually drifted away from Usenet. And over time I drifted away from some of those other things in favor of yet other things; online communities aren't done evolving by a longshot. (And then there's social media, which feels...different from intentional communities to me. Less cohesive, more episodic and sound-bite-ish.) I imagine that looking back to today in 40 more years will seem just as foreign and quaint as looking back to the beginnings of Usenet must seem to those who weren't around at the time.

New article from The Register

The Register, the publication that picked up the Stack Overflow story on Rosh Hashana, has just published a new article:

Stack Overflow makes peace with ousted moderator, wants to start New Year with 2020 vision on codes of conduct
Q&A biz admits mistakes, promises more discreet public communication

In a display of Yuletide good spirits, or possibly a desire to bury bad news, Stack Overflow has settled its beef with a former moderator and said she can apply to regain her moderator status.

On December 23, 2019, the biz, which operates a collection of more than 140 community-driven Q&A websites that form the Stack Exchange network, announced that it had made peace with Monica Cellio, a volunteer moderator who lost her moderator status and associated site privileges after questioning the company's Code of Conduct.


Aggrieved at being named by the company and accused of wrongdoing without justification, Cellio subsequently threatened to sue the organization for defamation and established a page to pay for litigation. She managed to raise more than $25,000.

In its December 23 announcement that the company had reached an agreement with Cellio, Chipps said the biz believes Cellio's actions were not malicious and were the result of misunderstanding. Chipps allows that the wording of the Code of Conduct was insufficiently clear and cites Cellio's community contributions and integrity.

"While our initial statement did not address [Cellio] specifically, we regret that we used her name when responding to a reporter's follow-up," Chipps wrote, in reference to our report. "We regret any damage to Ms. Cellio's reputation and any other damage she may have suffered." Chipps said Cellio has been invited to reapply for possible reinstatement as a moderator but has not yet done so.

(Click the link for the full story.)

If any of my readers are good at search-engine magic, I'd appreciate anything you can do to push the new story up and the original story down in searches on my name. (The original story now has an update and link at the end, but still...)