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I can honestly say I've never had an issue on SO, but I also only started participating a decade into my career, by which point I understood how it worked quite well from years of using it as a resource.

Which says a lot, really. If the site only got new users with that kind of background, it'd long since have gone the way of the dodo. And it definitely does a bad job of helping inexperienced people write for posterity (the actual goal) which has an outsized impact on diversity just from numbers.

 

I think an issue with Stack Overflow is that software development became so mainstream in the last decade and some of the subtle cultural changes that go along with that have failed to evolve.

Otherwise I think this article hits the nail on the head on a few topics.

Let’s make it easier for new users to succeed.

It's not even that Stack isn't welcoming to new developers, it's that it's not welcoming to new users. It's way to easy to break a rule you didn't realize existed and the interface is so purely utilitarian that it sort of makes you feel bad for breaking the rules. It's a little thing but it hits those who already feel like outsiders the hardest.

Another interesting part of the article:

Let’s do something about comments. Condescension and sarcasm have been reluctantly tolerated in comments for too long. We’ll research possible feature changes, but let’s start by working with the community and our community managers to start flagging and deleting unkind comments now.

Interestingly I find it funny that they allow a lot of condescension while also banning a lot of things that seem uplifting or pleasant interactions. This is all anecdotal but I think it's the truth.

Stack Overflow is super wonderful and its warts are a real shame because the truth is that it's probably the single most important resource new developers can have technically. But it just missed on some cultural elements.

I've talked about this all before, as mentioned in @evanoman but I found it interesting that just yesterday Jeff Atwood weighed in with this (IMO) super tone-deaf tweet:

Jeff's no longer with Stack but it's a shame he can't take a bit of leadership on the non-controversial idea that being "welcoming" is not a bad thing.

 

In regards, to Jeff's comment. I think it applies more to the likes of Reddit than SO. This other quote comes to mind.

If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

SO's situation and intolerance I feel more is bound from more experienced developers being upset as the lack from research and a large number of questions from users with only 1 reputation as well as people that just drop walls of text and code and expect an answer.

That's definitely understandable. I think some of this comes from the complications of a large group of people having to collectively understand that perhaps there is frustrations on both sides of this issue, and we're all in this together.

But I'm pretty sure, having established a dialog with Jeff myself, that it's not unfair to say that these tweets are in response to Stack criticism.

These are classic human problems we've been having for about 50,000 years. The internet makes it that much more complicated.

Oh yeah, with Jeff's history as the founder of the company and the release of the blog post there's not doubt it was in regards to SO :)

These are classic human problems we've been having for about 50,000 years.

With my intro, I was just pointing out it seems many communities at scale have similar issues haha.

150

the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar

:blinks:

 

Interestingly I find it funny that they allow a lot of condescension while also banning a lot of things that seem uplifting or pleasant interactions. This is all anecdotal but I think it's the truth.

This is so true. It is pretty common to see comments discouraging "thank you" comments but you rarely see someone calling out condescension.

I agree with your assessment of this new article, hopefully it is a first step in the right direction.

 

This type of attitude and behavior isn't isolated to SO. I genuinely think it's an industry wide issue. In particular the OSS community is, in my opinion, much worse. I have a decade of experience programming but I barely consider contributing to open source projects because of how I "feel" when I read github issues. People are extremely curt and standoffish. Yes, you're right, yes you sound intelligent, but you're a bit of an asshole.

You're not wrong, you're just an asshole

 

I wish dev.to had downvoting because there it would make it easier to wade through what is mostly useless content.

 

If you feel like the content is useless you may only have a few choices to deal with it:

  • help improve it and engage with the authors
  • subscribe to authors you like and mostly only read their content
  • ignore those posts

Down voting is not a totally stupid idea but I would change the UX. If you actively down vote a post you need to write why. This might also help improve the community in the process: "I disagree with you because..." or "I think you should have googled a little bit more because the answer is the third result on a normal google search"

 

+1 on this, I never really understood the reason for downvoting. If you don't agree with something you can just ignore it, if you feel it's in some way offensive you should be able to report it.

It's not like if you don't like something in google's search you can 'downvote it' out of the search results.

I guess an equivalent instead of 'downvoting' would be to be able to ban certain people's replies so you don't see them unless you want to.

I think there's a purpose for downvoting but it should be the equivalent of saying in real life: "I disagree with you for this reason or that reason".

Simple downvoting is a catalyst for "anonymous" disagreement. It lets the downvoter feel good because they said "no" and it lets the poster feel dismayed because they'll not know what they did wrong.

As you said abuse can simply be reported, disagreement should be explicit or, in fact, can be let unexpressed.

Hiding other people's content or replies is just a mean of organizing your own feed a-la-Facebook, I don't know how I feel about it. It's a means of survival in a generalist social network like FB but I wouldn't instinctively put it in dev.to

I think my biggest issue with downvoting is that an 'outside the norm' idea that might be 'against' a community will be downvoted into irelevance. Maybe downvoting, but keeping the same design ?

Yes it's true. The risk of creating a crowd mentality is not insignificant.

"I'm downvoting you because you're not allowed to post something I deem irrelevant with the spirit of this website or with my own preferences".

It's a slippery slope.

I would make it very hard to downvote someone. As I said, you want to downvote? Ok, you need to tell the author why at least :-D

 

"It was hard to accept some of the (valid) criticism, especially the idea that women and people of color felt particularly unwelcome."

Wait what???

How did they found out the user's skin color? 80% of users use fake names and pictures,most are fake profiles,I think the situation is way exaggerated!

 

I wasn't too bothered, but then again I've never asked a question. I get why some people were really rigid about what to answer, what to downvote, etc., but I thought at times they were a little snarky or outright rude.

I especially appreciated the part about those who downvote answers to bad questions. Sometimes someone posts a really badly asked question, but I understand it and I want to help. How do I do that without bringing wrath down upon myself, or worse, worrying that I'm working against the big picture intent of the site just to answer one question?

They're being a little bit harder on themselves than I might have been, but again, I haven't experienced everything. I think this is great and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.

 

In the ~10+ years I have been using SO I have never found it particularly welcoming.

What's worse is having this very specific issue, which you struggle to understand why it's happening so then also struggle to articulate the situation.

You spend an age gathering as much information as possible, adding links and code examples post it only to have it downvoted or have someone edit it for you without adding anything else to the question.

This actually happened to me the other day:
xkcd.com/979/

All I could offer at the time was a poke at humour with the link to the image in the comments but I did manage to solve it. So being a good SO citizen I shared my solution not thinking to have it accepted or acknowledged.

stackoverflow.com/questions/240934...

These situations are far outweighed by the "possible duplicate" and downvotes though.

 

If someone asks a question that either makes no sense, isn't appropriate for the forum, or the person doesn't seem to have even tried at all, I see a few good options.

  • Do and say nothing
  • Edit the question, if you're sure you understand what is meant and how to make it clearer
  • Leave a tactful comment that explains why you don't think the question is answerable. You don't have to be over-the-top nice, just don't be rude. IOW, don't say, "That makes no sense." Say, "It's not clear what you're trying to do."

The hard part is that you have to do something with questions that are hopeless. You don't want them showing up in search results. When you look at downvoting, the intent is actually good, because it comes from multiple people. It just feels awful.

Perhaps those questions should be tagged so that they appear in a different section, like "Questions Needing Clarification." It's functionally the same as closing the question, but it's nicer. It would feel like an open-ended offer of help to the one asking. We want to help - could you just make the question clearer? It's like putting a cat in one of those shelters where they never get killed, just cheaper.

Maybe instead of downvotes they could have pre-worded comments that users add and increment. It functions similarly to the downvote, but it's less discouraging and takes the place of derisive comments. Instead of, we hate you, -5, you're closed, it's "Our community wants to help you, but several members have determined that your question may not have a clear answer because..." And then it's left open for them to fix it.

Wrong forum? "That may be an excellent question, but this forum is for a particular type of question. Perhaps you could post it in XYZ forum, or change it to ask a more specific technical question."

You can say anything if you say it nicely.

 

99% of my interaction with SO is .NET-oriented. I see some rudeness and condescension, but I wonder if it varies a lot depending on which areas you're looking at. Like maybe there's more issues around questions about XYZ.

Are there any areas where the observed issues are more pronounced?

 

// , Maybe there could be a "FriendlinessOverflow" to complement the Q&A site?

Its symbol could be a muffin with rainbow icing.

I would love a site like that.

“There’s not a Hand in this town, sir, man, woman, or child, but has one ultimate object in life. That object is, to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. Now, they’re not a-going—none of ’em—ever to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. And now you know the place.”–Josiah Bounderby in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times

But seriously, his quasi-Bounderbyisms aside, Jeff Atwood, the founder of the StackOverflow site, has a point.

StackOverflow brings the best to its readers as an aggressively curated Wiki masquerading as a Q&A site.

This means that some content will get rejected. Plenty of mine has been. And some people will, in turn, feel rejected.

And if you try a search query in other, less curated fora, I think you might agree that a lot of the value of StackOverflow is what is not on it.

 

This is a great post and pretty much everything they said is, in my opinion, on the mark. The key here will be if they truly follow this up with action.

Also, not to shift any blame from SO, but this is a problem on many developer-focused sites - some more so than others. For example, I still sometimes check Hacker News, but try to stay away from the comment sections. Other similar sites like EchoJS, Lobsters and the programming sub-Reddits, for example, can sometimes suffer from a similar level of hostility to varying degrees.

As a business, it is up to SO to fix its community and tools. As a community, it is up to us developers to stop accepting or even glorifying hostile attitudes, including things like RTFM and "read the code." We are not all obligated to help (it'd be nice but not realistic)...but the least we can do is not actively demean or exclude.

 

I think in general the programming / it community has an issue regarding elitism and newcomer acceptance.

If I look back, RTFM was a really often reply on lots of forums regarding beginner questions.

The main thing to keep in mind is that they actually acknowledged it's an issue. I'm not really a contributor, but somehow I'm in the top 83% and I think that speaks for itself on how hard it is to bring new people in.

 

I stopped posting on any of their sites about 4 years ago due the issues mentioned in the blog post. Their sites have become a cesspool of arrogant jerks and I think they'll have a very difficult time changing that.

 

Interesting blog post and good initiative from Stack Overflow to make it more welcoming.

The biggest problem I have seen with it are people downvoting or closing questions from newbies who don't have any code yet because they don't know where to start. That is very unwelcoming.

I think part of the problem was Stack Overflow's own usage rules / guidelines that questions needed to be specific and have code etc, and many moderators where happy just to post those rules as a comment rather than helping the newbie start off on the right track, getting them to the point where they can have a go at writing some code and ask further questions for help with it if needed.

 

My biggest pet peeve is when you have the same question that needs to be answered, but all you can find is snark. So it's not only affecting the original poster, it's affecting everyone who stumbles upon it.

 

I noticed a few weeks ago when I was doing something on SO - I can't remember whether I was writing an answer or editing a question in the queue - and a side panel appeared saying a lot of helpful things about how to help new users without being condescending.

I remember thinking that was a good idea both as it stood and as a healthy reminder to people who might tend to be antagonistic.

I only saw it the once and don't think it appeared in relation to anything specific I was doing. The language it used was very similar to this linked post.

 
 

That's why I thought this would be interesting. I was mostly defending SO while griping that some users were a little rude and sarcastic. But it looks like they see a problem they want to solve.

 

I have actively not asked questions of SO because of how rough it can be. Luckily most of the issues I have, so many others have already had.

 

I love the idea but... we'll need good luck for that to change

Classic DEV Post from Aug 23 '19

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I’ve been developing software full time since 2003, beginning with languages I’m still embarrassed to mention.