Blog: Stack Overflow

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.

Topical Purim Torah

I was pointed to this piece of Purim torah from Mi Yodeya. The question asks, based on a text, "why is Mi Yodeya so angry?". Isaac Moses, site founder, posted this answer, which I'm copying here for personal posterity.

And it was in the days of Ahashuar. Who? Ahashuar, who reigned over the royal treasury, from a throne in a palace, high above Shushan, the capital. And Mi Yodeya was at that time a province of the kingdom. There came to be promoted one hundred and twenty-seven governors of Personnel and Media higher than any of their fellow officials in the palace.

There was a Jewish woman in Shushan, the capital, by the name of Mordeca. And she was foster to many of the provinces of the kingdom, including Shushan, the capital. And she was highly regarded by the Jews and popular with the multitude of her colleagues, bearers of the royal signet. And she found favor in the eyes of the ministers of the court.

Now the one hundred and twenty-seven governors said to themselves, "there is a certain individual who is spread out among many of the provinces of the realm, whose language is different from the language of the palace, and who does not follow the laws of the kingdom, and it is not in our interest to tolerate her." And they were filled with rage, so they hurried messengers posthaste to remove the royal signet from Mordeca's hand, and they impaled her upon the book of records. And the governors sat down each week to celebrate, but the city of Shushan was confused.

In every province that the governors' command and decree reached, there was great mourning, wailing and weeping. And many of the people of the capital cast off their signets, for the fear of the governors had befallen them.

Some time afterward, a royal edict was issued, including in the laws of the kingdom that "the people in all the provinces of the kingdom shall speak the language of the palace, omitting nothing of what we have decreed."

And many of the residents of Shushan came before the court, and said, "if we have won your favor and the proposal seems right to you, let dispatches be written countermanding those which were written, and let the royal signet be returned to the hand of Mordeca." And they spoke to them day after day, and they would not listen to them. Then the governors dispatched their ministers to say, "if Mordeca will kneel and bow low before the palace, then there will be a poor ... that is, a chance, that she can be returned to her place in the palace gate." But they said to their ministers inside the inner court, "Now that this decree has been written in the name of the palace, it may not be revoked. The royal signet will not be placed upon her hand." And Mordeca would not kneel and would not bow low.

Some time afterward, when the anger of Shushan had subsided, the one hundred and twenty-seven governors thought about what they had done and what they had decreed against Mordeca. And they asked themselves "What should be done to a person whom we desire to honor? And whom should we desire to honor more than ministers who are beloved of Shushan and who intercede for the welfare of the people of the realm?" But the opposite happened, and they impaled Shaashgaz and Carshena upon stakes, for they were ministers who were beloved of Shushan and who had interceded for the welfare of the people of the realm. And Harbona, another of the guardians of the signet-bearers, who is also remembered as good, went out from the palace. And the city of Shushan was again confused.

Yes, "Shaashgaz" and "Harbona" have seen it. (I'm not in contact with "Carshena".)

Followup to the followup (GoFundMe)

Following up this update, I've received a receipt for the donation to The Trevor Project and have added a link on

Link roundup (mostly online communities)

I have a lot of links I've been meaning to share accumulating in tabs, tweets, and whatnot. I'd wanted to "curate" this more, but sharing something is better than sharing nothing because I didn't get to that, so...

Fundraising update

I've made two recent updates to GoFundMe, but due to a disconnect between what I understand from their help and what actually happened, they are not visible there. I promised people a financial accounting, so I'm posting it here as well.

February 4 update

I have now received all related bills and can report final numbers for the GoFundMe campaign.

GoFundMe takes a fee of 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction, as described in their help.


GoFundMe, less fees24,450.14
Outside donations229.03


Donation refund (misunderstanding with one donor) 100.00
Legal services16,582.50

The difference, $7,996.67, will be donated to The Trevor Project. When I receive a receipt I'll post it here.

February 13 update

The Trevor Project has not yet processed the check I sent last week, but they have confirmed that they will send me a publishable receipt when they do, which I expect to be soon. I will post that at If you want me to notify you when that happens, email me at

Thank you everybody for your support!

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.

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...)

Stack Overflow update

Update: an agreement with Monica Cellio

Meta, control, and agency

Jon Ericson, then a community manager at Stack Overflow who was trying to get company leaders to repair their relationship with the community, wrote a blog post about the difference between control and agency and how Meta, the "town hall" for the community, factored in. (The company had decided that users on Meta should be ignored because they complained about stuff and, really, they're only something like 0.015% of the community so we can ignore them.)

I left the following comment:

Part of the challenge is that not only do users need some agency, but we need to believe we have some agency. This is a core part of what your employer violated in September; last year they made an explicit promise to moderators (of agency and several other things), and then they grossly violated that in a profoundly hurtful way that they've refused to mitigate at all. Against that backdrop, changes that appear to shut down feedback channels face an uphill battle.

Meta doesn't scale, I know. I'm not active on SO meta where I hear things have broken down. On my smaller sites, meta still works fine -- not only that, but it helps us actively build community! Main meta is somewhere in between -- not as big as SO meta, bigger than any other site's meta. I've seen main meta be very productive and collaborative, and I've seen it be...not. I don't think that's just scale; it's also tied to trust (which is related to and perhaps derived from agency).

It's important, therefore, to not just say "meta works" or "meta doesn't work" but to drill into what characteristics make it work or not work. You indicated that scale is an issue. Here are some others:

  • Visibility. People feel they have agency when they can see that their concerns have been raised (or that they've been able to raise them). Meta is default-public; blog comments (on the Stack Overflow blog) are default-private; SurveyMonkey results are private. Users don't know what's going into that black box.

  • Responsiveness. Yeah, I get that some employees are afraid of meta. The CMs never seemed to be and you're supposed to be a bridge to and from the community, so it feels like the company could still engage with users on meta if the higher-ups wanted to. People don't expect to control things but do expect to be heard and be able to get answers. The company has been failing badly here, and a move to either shut down or officially ignore meta would make that worse. Y'all could mitigate it by reporting and responding to that black-box survey feedback you're getting, but it'll probably be too little too late too vague. Your users have poured heart and soul into your sites for (sometimes) 11 years; it's very alienating to be shut out without any acknowledgement of the value we've brought.

  • Gratitude. Sure there are some cranks on meta, but the vast majority of users who are requesting features, raising discussion points, and asking questions are doing so because we're trying to make our shared space even better. We care. We care enough to spend hours developing and presenting ideas, even building prototypes or mockups, to help other users and thus the network. Are some of those offerings crap? Sure. But the company shouldn't be so quick to dismiss these offerings anyway. The person who wrote that crappy memory-hogging userscript today could build a really thoughtful spec to solve a pain point tomorrow -- if you don't send the "don't bother, kiddo" signal. There has been too little acknowledgement of and thanks for the many contributions the meta community has made over the years. Instead we're branded as malcontents or worse and dismissed as dangerous for employees' wellbeing.

I know that you, Jon, know all this already. But sometimes even when I know something, hearing somebody else say it helps me see it in a new way that then helps me act on it. You know all this, but perhaps, maybe, my commenting on it anyway helps you do something with it to get through to the people who don't know it and seem uninterested in listening to mere users.

A tactical plea to my supporters on Stack Exchange

Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange keeps making mistakes on top of mistakes. Most recently, they announced that they are removing links to the GoFundMe campaign about the defamation. In broad strokes this is not surprising; it's their network and they're not interested in hosting links to a page gathering funds with which to sue them. Some of their specific actions are still highly questionable, particularly editing people's user profiles (in which people have always been free to advertise whatever they like, aside from things like gross hate sites and child porn).

This is such a misstep (I gained $3k in about a day after this) that one naturally wonders if sympathetic employees under orders are choosing how to carry them out. Of course one wonders this, but saying it out loud on the site could get those people in trouble. Similarly, asking questions about other cases employees didn't bring up, like user names (they didn't say anything about user names), could just lead them to clamp down on things they wouldn't have otherwise touched. Don't make them answer questions we don't want them to answer in predictable ways, please!

Friends, please be careful. Don't give the people calling the shots either additional ideas or ammunition against people who are trying to bring some sanity to the mess the company rulers have created.

Finally, let me say again how overwhelmed I am by all the support I'm getting. Thank you all so much! Almost 300 people have donated funds, and hundreds of people across the network have changed their user names, gravatars, or profile descriptions to protest the company's actions. And I was delighted to see community ads on several sites, before clamp-down. Knowing that so much of the community is behind me gives me strength to press forward. I can't express my gratitude enough.

Quote of the day, Stack Overflow edition

The thing about a train wreck is that it usually ends. It's like the train wrecked and then they brought in a big claw to pick it up and drop it over and over. The train was full of horses and no one knows if they're alive or dead, so they just keep kicking them. - Scott Hannen, 2019-11-10

Yup, that's about right. Stack Overflow Inc. has blown a simple misunderstanding (that's the most charitable interpretation I have) into full-blown personal attacks and libel in violation of their own code of conduct, causing a bunch of power users to leave, then doubled down on the attacks instead of retracting and apologizing, and throughout has refused to so much as discuss a resolution, so now we're at the lawyer stage.

Meanwhile, they've been refusing to answer questions about the probably-illegal license change they made two months ago, and somebody else finally decided to seek legal counsel about that. Would that have happened now without the other profound failures, or would there have been more discussion and collaboration first? Hard to know. And somebody else brought up New York labor law, which Stack Overflow might or might not be in violation of; I wonder when that will escalate.

It would have been hard for Stack Overflow to mess this up more badly if they'd tried. No employees have (publicly) left yet, but given how top management is treating the community team, I won't be surprised if that happens.