If you’re here to help others, be patient and welcoming.
August 8, 2018 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Stack Overflow, and by extension Stack Exchange, has released its new Code of Conduct, guiding user behavior. It looks like it has potential to make the site better and more welcoming for the many who need programming help.
posted by Quackles (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously.
posted by sciatrix at 2:37 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


It's, well, better than nothing, but:
For repetitive misconduct or behavior containing harassment, bigotry, or abuse, moderators will impose a temporary suspension (one day or more, depending on the violation).
For repetitive harassment, bigotry, or abuse, you might get kicked off for... a day? Or more, maybe even! One day, seriously? For someone who's already been warned and has persisted in the behavior? They seem like they're trying really hard to avoid anything that would make those who have contributed to the problem feel genuinely threatened.
posted by Sequence at 2:52 PM on August 8 [38 favorites]


Top 0.05% StackOverflow answerer here. This is an entire site dedicated to the gamification of asking and answering questions.

How many gamepoints will you get by being nice? 0.
How many gamepoints will you lose by being mean? 0.

The entire new CoC is predicated on moderators enforcing it, which is going to overwork them to the point of quitting or drinking or both. Meanwhile the StackOverflow Meta is overrun by neckbeards complaining about MAH FREE SPEACH and predicting the end of the site as we know it if they're not allowed to be assholes to people asking how to do their CS homework, as if running into an asshole on the internet has ever presented a serious barrier to entry after the fact.

Nothing's going to change.
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:19 PM on August 8 [41 favorites]


I parse that as (repetitive misconduct) OR (non-repetitive behavior containing harassment, bigotry, or abuse). So maybe repetitive misconduct that would get a day of suspension is twice saying "You could Google this in 5 seconds" (an example given on the page). Whereas perhaps using a slur once might get a much lengthier suspension.

The language could use clarification, though. The announcement blog post is worth reading. They are requesting feedback:
Our CoC is what we call a living document. It’s designed to change over time to ensure that it remains relevant by continuing to meet the needs of our communities. Every six months or so, we plan to find out how folks feel about how things are going by asking both new and experienced users about their recent experiences on the site. There’s also a code of conduct tag folks can use on Meta Stack Exchange to ask questions about, or propose changes to the CoC.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 3:20 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Given they plan on updating it, one thing I would like to see is permalinking over each version. It will be interesting to see how it evolves over time.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 3:28 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


It looks like it has potential to make the site better and more welcoming for the many who need programming help

That phrasing implies that it was even a little welcoming before.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:29 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


They're at least trying to get the word out about this; I didn't even know that I had a Stack Overflow account, but the other day an email about this showed up in my inbox. They must have overridden whatever "never talk to me" settings I have in order to make sure I heard about the new CoC. So they're trying there, anyway.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:31 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I parse that as (repetitive misconduct) OR (non-repetitive behavior containing harassment, bigotry, or abuse).

Okay, I will not necessarily 100% trust in that, but--subject to a grain of salt, I'm at least going to hope that you're right. God, I have so little faith in these places anymore. In general, though, I dislike that they're using the language of the punishments to reassure people that no this is fine because people will be banned only very, very rarely. Members of the majority group should never walk out of a code of conduct feeling comfortable and reassured that they're safe, because members of the minority group(s) are never going to feel like the written document made them actually safe just because it introduced consequences for the dangers.
posted by Sequence at 3:40 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Would be interesting to see a family tree of the wording. The Stack Overflow code of conduct "incorporates ideas and language from the Coral Project, and Buffer codes of conduct." The Coral Project code of conduct is "adapted from the SRCCON code of conduct, FreeBSD’s code of conduct, Vox Media’s product team code of conduct, and Medium’s code of conduct." The Buffer one references "the Vox Code of Conduct, the Recurse Center’s Social Rules and the Hack Code of Conduct for their ideas and inspiration."
posted by readinghippo at 4:04 PM on August 8 [8 favorites]


> readinghippo:
"Would be interesting to see a family tree of the wording."

I may make something like that…
posted by waninggibbon at 4:26 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


> ...the Recurse Center’s Social Rules...

Oh, please let the R.C.'s rules derive from someone downstream so we have recursive rulemaking. Codes of conduct all the way down.

> They're at least trying to get the word out about this; I didn't even know that I had a Stack Overflow account, but the other day an email about this showed up in my inbox.

Me too. I thought it was GDPR-related somehow. The reality is heartening even if 0xFCAF's mostly right.
posted by ASCII Costanza head at 4:44 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


How many gamepoints will you get by being nice? 0.
How many gamepoints will you lose by being mean? 0.


Yep. Beyond that, no effort has been made to use the site's tools to help users be nice. It's far easier to be mean than it is to be nice.

For example, someone comes and asks a question that has a problem. Maybe it's too broad, or in the wrong place, or very difficult to understand because it's written in someone's second (or third or fourth or...) language, or maybe a handful of people decide it must be a completely opinion-based subjective question because you've made the handing error of using the word "best" somewhere. In a couple of clicks, you can do the unwelcoming thing and downvote it or vote to close it and move on. But writing a polite explanation that welcomes the user and tries to clarify the question or address the problem takes a bunch of time. And nothing about the site rewards that behavior. Not only do you not get rep for it, your effort will probably be summarily deleted by moderators who routinely delete comments.

Basic site features that would make it easier to be nice are fundamentally broken. Migration, the process of moving a question asked in the wrong place to the right one (site definitions are often difficult for new users to find or understand), is a mess. The site UI encourages closing questions from new users, and does nothing to say "you should write a comment explaining why." You can just drop drive-by downvotes without any explanation. There's a voting system that has a bias toward closing questions (it takes a certain number of votes to close, but there's no equivalent way to vote to keep a question open if you disagree, so a five close-happy users can close questions without consensus). Once a question is closed as a duplicate, it's likely to remain so and nobody will look at it again, even if that didn't answer the user's question or the user needs more help applying the information from the duplicate answer to their situation.

If they're really serious about this, the fix needs to come in the site itself, to make being nice the default path for everything, and to reward it with the gamification incentives that built the site in the first place. Otherwise, nothing will change.
posted by zachlipton at 5:28 PM on August 8 [19 favorites]


Oh I forgot one. People come all the time and post new questions in the answer box. Why? Because they find something sort of related on google, scroll to the big box at the bottom, and start typing their question.

For this, they get screamed at and deleted. There's no mechanism besides some often-ignored text to try to detect such cases and direct people to the proper place to ask a new question. There's no mechanism to take an otherwise valid question that's been mistakenly put in the answer box and move it to the right place. There's not even a button that generates a canned comment explaining the problem; you just get whatever rudeness people have decided to type, if they bother to leave a comment at all. The site makes you work extra hard to be welcoming when dealing with a problem its created.

It's like if they ran a restaurant where thousands of people come in the back door all the time and end up in the kitchen, a cook screams at them to get out, and then they never come back.
posted by zachlipton at 5:54 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


> How many gamepoints will you get by being nice? 0.
> How many gamepoints will you lose by being mean? 0.

Any ideas for addressing this? My favorites:

1. Mentors
2. Retire the neckbeards at 10,000 pts, put them in a Hall-of-Fame, and make them start over as newbies. Let the beatings continue until empathy improves.
posted by bunbury at 6:43 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


"This is an entire site dedicated to the gamification of asking and answering questions." Ok, but it was always that. Yet it didn't used to suck so much. I remember it as being so much better a decade ago. Helpful and worth participating in despite the errant dickwad here and there.

When I came back to work in IT a little over a year ago after almost a decade out of the industry, I was shocked and horrified to see the changes. Exactly the kind of questions I want to read responses to are routinely mown down by overly zealous moderators because there is a component of opinion involved. WTF? If you want to look up one defined piece of information, there is an M somewhere you can R. Almost always, the threads that are valuable are more complex ones that have been closed--despite multiple high-rated answers. Why are the mods so out of touch with what many in the community clearly want?

And why are they so zealous about that, but don't care at all about users maintaining some basic civility??

I created a new account and posted a well-worded and meaningful question and was treated like absolute garbage because the two people who leaped on it thought it had too much detail. I included exactly the amount of detail it required for context; no more, no less. Guaranteed, if I had included less detail someone answering it would have made a wrong assumption or suggested something I'd already tried.

I got the impression these two people LIVED on the site and ENJOYED shitting on people. They did not address the actual question in the least. I sent an email to some address I found asking if this was acceptable to the powers that be. I received no response whatever. I shut down my account.
posted by nirblegee at 6:51 PM on August 8 [10 favorites]


"This is an entire site dedicated to the gamification of asking and answering questions." Ok, but it was always that. Yet it didn't used to suck so much. I remember it as being so much better a decade ago. Helpful and worth participating in despite the errant dickwad here and there.

I think this comment's clarified why I've been so uneasy about the revelation that Stack Overflow is apparently bad now, because I have those memories too. The thing I know is, it can go both ways, and the meta, if we can call it that, has clearly evolved over time. This sort of thing happens all the time in communities: it's great when it's a new community and there's no defensiveness, and then you start getting problems and defences are erected which take away some of the magic of a new community for something that hopefully is more robust. Take that too far, though, and the community becomes sclerotic. Not enough, and the community becomes degenerate.

It's interesting that it took me so long to realise this must have happened to Stack Overflow, despite me knowing, intellectually, that communities do this.
posted by Merus at 7:20 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I always really liked this bit from the freenode IRC guidelines:
Don't be caught by support burnout. It is nearly impossible to answer every technical question that comes to your channel. In many cases, the problem does not lie in the technical aspects of the question; cultural barriers may get in the way of communication, or it may be difficult to explain to a newbie just where to begin. When you try to answer every question, regardless of difficulty, you set yourself up for support burnout. Support burnout is nearly always accompanied by the feeling that you are losing control of your time, that the people you have set out to help are making unreasonable demands. The problem is that you are taking on too much responsibility; but it begins to appear instead that the problem is the end user who is asking for help. Different people react to support burnout in different ways. Some offer malicious advice ("rm -rf /" etc.) to newbies. Some insist that every question a newbie asks should be answered with a URL or by lists of manual references. When the staff of a support channel suffer from support burnout, they are likely to set arbitrary rules for participation; these might include prohibiting the use of certain phrases in channel, or disallowing the use of private messages to contact channel members. Staff might promulgate a lengthy, multi-page rules document ending with a special procedure the user must employ to be voiced in the channel (to make sure they have read the entire document before asking any questions). Such arbitrary rule sets tend to grow longer over time, because they do not solve the real problem. You cannot answer every question, and you should not try. Be gentle, be courteous, be flexible and be as patient and helpful as you can---but let someone else try to answer questions that you find too frustrating. Do not try to be a superhuman support machine.
It's bleakly hilarious how this single paragraph that's been around since years before Stack Overflow was created manages to sum up all its problems so perfectly.
posted by xiw at 7:50 PM on August 8 [26 favorites]


It's bleakly hilarious how this single paragraph that's been around since years before Stack Overflow was created manages to sum up all its problems so perfectly.

That is, in fact, extremely common. It's just that this knowledge never gets passed down to people making new social communities, but Facebook and Twitter's problems with people using the platform in supported ways to do terrible things is a problem that's been known about since the 70s. It's that old.
posted by Merus at 8:06 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


The Codes of Conduct family tree seems to have two main ancestors: The Ada Initiative's Template (/Geek Feminism wiki) and the Speak Up! Community.

the chart

the dotfile if anyone wants to modify it
posted by jnnnnn at 8:55 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


> I got the impression these two people LIVED on the site and ENJOYED shitting on people.

In some parts of life, and some parts of software development, it's important to filter aggressively. If you add a feature to your product, you have to support it forever. If you write hacky code to complete something fast, you will feel the pain when you need to refactor it later. If you hire a bad developer, they will fill your repo with shitty code.

The main goal in these scenarios is a low false positive rate: don't let in anything bad! It's OK to reject something good accidentally, because more good things will come along later, but if you accept something bad it will never go away.

In other parts of life, and other parts of software development, it's better to be open and accepting. If you try out a project in a field that seems boring, you might realize you actually love it. If you spend some time learning that new language/framework/architecture/process, you might find out that it's really useful even though it's missing a few features from your old favorite. If your co-worker fiercely defends a technical opinion that you disagree with, maybe they know something you don't.

In these scenarios, the cost of being open-minded is low. You might waste some time. But if you remain close-minded, you might miss something really important.

Toxic Stack Overflow users think SO falls into the first category. They imagine that the average person searching the site is a complete idiot. If this idiot reads a poorly-worded question, they might spiral off into a black hole of confusion, totally unable to correct or even recognize that something is wrong, and they will spend the rest of their lives paying dearly for the misunderstanding caused by SO. Moreover, each question costs thousands of dollars to store in the database, so duplicates must be deleted aggressively, even when they're not exactly duplicates but just similar.

In fact, SO falls in the second category. If a truly useless question is allowed into the site, most people who find it later will realize that it's not helpful and move on. But there are countless other questions that, despite seeming kind of wrong to a single 35k-reputation user, actually could help someone in the future.

Sadly, too many users have failed to recognize this, and choose to spend many days of their lives playing the role of a naive spam filter, scanning each question for primitive pattern-recognition features that sometimes appear in bad questions, and filtering them aggressively.
posted by scose at 9:55 PM on August 8 [8 favorites]


I've been using SO since the very start and remember how much thought went into making it a place where good questions had good thoughtful answers reliably, and for a long time it worked, even after it got huge.

But recently every SO google result I click on leads to a thoughtful question with ten people posting the same hacky one line answer suggesting trying some bodge that doesn't really solve the problem and that they clearly don't understand.

I also saw one question where the asker had taken a few paragraphs to clearly describe an awkward problem - exactly the problem I had - and the only response was "you need to post codes if you want help".

The other fun thing is the number of answers which are "I had this problem and solved it like this:" followed by a thousand lines of someone pasting in essentially their entire app as an answer to a question, completely with loads of personal information.

(it probably doesn't help that it's been Android app dev I've mostly been searching for lately, which seems to be an entire ecosystem built on hacks and bodges that don't really work)

One thing they did early on was watch the site constantly and immediately change the scoring system every time they saw undesirable behaviour. They seem to have been completely asleep at the wheel on this the last few years.
posted by grahamparks at 11:26 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I had a super weird and uncomfortable chat about SO culture at a professional conference with a SO employee who was well known, in which I learned that it is site policy to remove niceties like “Thank you” from posts. In fact I think the employee was mocking people who used this kind of language as know-nothing rubes. I found this terribly strange. I later reflected on my reaction and I think the reason it unsettled me is that it is bound to wind up being exclusionary to anyone who’s been socialized in some fashion to use these niceties to ward off nasty responses from rude tech men. I can’t imagine that this socialization is unrelated to demographics. It saddens me to hear that the site culture is now bad but/and it aligns with what I would expect to happen in a culture where you’re not allowed to deploy social graces.

That said - it has been useful to me a few times for R help, even though I have to self edit all the social words out of my posts. I’ve only had rudeness on the stats forum, never the main computing site, though many of my problems do go unsolved. SO is historically much less terrible than the R-help listserv, which is reported to be infected with a bad but extremely influential community member. When he dies perhaps I’ll join that instead.
posted by eirias at 6:49 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


> How many gamepoints will you get by being nice? 0.
> How many gamepoints will you lose by being mean? 0.


I gain significant SO points by being nice, but I gain them slowly. The answers I framed thinking like a TA, or like my best colleagues when I was a beginner, get more follow-on votes later. I explain how I looked it up -- something as simple as a chain of introspections, but explaining what I was scanning for and what dead-ends I went down -- and when I think the question is a bit ambiguous I have sometimes left two answers, one for each fork.

I don't think this increases the chance of the original asker accepting the answer, but it does seem to increase the chance of later readers throwing it a checkmark. Not statistically significant, may only apply in the less vicious subtopics, etc etc. I guess I'm like people who tell me that some sub-domains of reddit are good; I can't face up to reddit, but I am invested enough in decent parts of SO to keep going (and to hope they can fix the rest of it).
posted by clew at 10:45 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


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