Why does Meta Stack Overflow tolerate people not telling the truth?

It was a deep sorrow to see someone again not telling the truth. Being a very new account, about 2-3 months “old”, is not an excuse. Let us see what exactly happened:

This ban was completely appropriate from the interactions I’ve seen/had with the user. Just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything wrong. –  Alex K

Alright, this may sound the good and useful track at first, because it is some feedback, but the OP rightfully asked for justification as follows:

@AlexK Any appropriate samples? –  πάντα ῥεῖ
I am very happy to see that the OP asked this since what “AlexK” wrote is quite unfair without justification as those are heavy words on the situation. Let us see what this guy replied:
@πάνταῥεῖ I’d prefer not to link them here, but I will summarize – he posted a very low quality answer, which I happened to review. Me and 5 other people unanimously voted to delete. He fixed up his post, but then went to one of my questions, downvoted it, and began a comment war on how I deleted a great post. The post is great now – it obviously wasn’t before. He wouldn’t leave. I finally decided to stop replying. Very strange way to behave – to come after people who reviewed your post. –  Alex K
As you can see, this what he claimed:
* I’d prefer not to link them here, but I will summarize
Why not, dear AlexK? Why is it better to summaize it in _your_ words rather giving the readers an unbiased link? It seems that people have disagreed with you based on the comment upvotes. Hopefully, this is not the reason… I will amend that with a screenshot here:
alexk-the-best-liar1
* He fixed up his post, but then went to one of my questions, downvoted it.
Dear AlexK, it is not fair not telling the truth again.
First of all, you cannot know who downvotes your posts as downvotes are intentionally anonymous on Stack Overflow. It is in the core foundation of the site as far as I can tell. You have been around for a while. I thought you ought to know this. Therefore, accusing others with downvotes without knowing is unfair.
Secondly, as the date shows the conversation happened on Christmas day. You got your last downvote on the 23rd of December, so no one had ever downvoted you ever since until your comment.
Thirdly, lpapp could provide screenshots for you to prove that the claim is incorrent; he is probably the most authoratitive person in this case to point this out, even though I do not think he needs to defend himself as you have got no downvotes. I think it is better to be careful before making those assumptions.
* and began a comment war on how I deleted a great post.
Dear AlexK, this is a problem with your participation with due respect.
Firstly, you asked a question about a declined flag where you were wrong based on the moderator’s reaction. This was confirmed by community votes as well as the replying moderator.
Secondly, lpapp gave you another example where you may have done nothing to improve an existing post coming from the upstream contributor of the library. You voted to delete without improving, copy/pasting into a comment or leaving a reply what exactly is missing. He warned you to please be careful. You are recommending post deletion too much in his opinion and that is what he wrote. It is not abusive; it is lpapp’s personal opinion.
Thirdly, such a discussion is not a war and you really should not treat discussions like that. If you do, it is not going to be fruitful or just respectful disagreement. I would call this facing two viewpoints which may respectfully diverge in the end.
* He wouldn’t leave.
Dear AlexK,
Firstly, you always wrote something targetting him. It is unfair to expect him not to reply in such cases. It would be the same the other way around, too.
Secondly, if a discussion is complex, then it is a complex and it ends when the two parties see where they agree or disagree. If that takes 5-6 comments, then it takes. It does not come to a conclusion when you think you are done.
Thirdly, it is not unusual on Meta Stack Overflow to have 5-6 comments anyway. Please do not approach discussions like that negatively.
* I finally decided to stop replying.
Dear AlexK, that is your decision. Although, sometimes it is rude to write something without following up, but it is fine if you stop it. You are not obliged to continue afterwards. lpapp did not complain about this either, so I assume he was OK with that.
* Very strange way to behave – to come after people who reviewed your post.
Dear AlexK,
Firstly, what is strange about giving feedback under the relevant question?
Secondly, he did not beg for your upvote, etc. He humbly requested you to be more careful with recommending such deletions like the offending review you asked about or the one lpapp showed. Isn’t feedback the point of meta questions?
Thirdly, if you think the upvotes are unjustified on the comments because the posts are offensive or say, abusive, please do flag them for moderator attention so that moderators can deal with them
So, let us get back to dear AlexK’s sentence:
This ban was completely appropriate from the interactions I’ve seen/had with the user.
Many hold the opinion that justifying a one-year-lasting ban because of a disagreement with lpapp is getting far out of your way to put revenge on him due to this disagreement. It seems you took his feedback personally. That is not a wise thing to do. He was objective. Disagreements happen on a daily basis, especially on such a well-visited site as Stack Overflow.
I mean, no disagreement like this deserves ban, not even an hour, let alone one year. Moreover, whom exactly to ban in disagreements? Why to ban anyway? This was not offensive, let alone abusive, and actually the community seems to have agreed with lpapp anyhow.
So, my humble and probably rhetorical question goes here, especially for accounts 2-3 months “old” like in this case.
Why does Meta Stack Overflow tolerate people not telling the truth?
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Public Answer to Brad Larson for lpapp’s ban

Hi everyone, here you can read the public answer from lpapp to Brad Larson’s post.
This user had been warned by four moderators in six direct moderator messages and three suspensions prior to this. They had been suspended from Meta.SE separately at least once, in addition. They have been banned from chat on multiple occasions (currently serving a 30-day ban at the time this happened). They were repeatedly warned in comments and in chat by almost every single active moderator on the site.

1) Date: Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 7:42 PM by Andrew Barber

I was asked to take lengthy comments to Meta. Understanding that, I tried to follow this suggestion. It has no longer been such a big issue although I have been prefering comments lately. The lesson was learned. I am grateful for the moderators for their help. I appreciate that they showed me the significance of Meta back then. Thanks guys.

2) Date: Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 10:11 AM by Andrew Barber

I entered my first “serial downvoting” loop with more than three downvotes on a user who was frankly a newcomer, stubborn and incompetent. Even though he was not cool, I sincerely regret what I did and I admit that it was a mistake. Shame on me; slap me. Thanks again for the moderator warning.

3) Date: Mon, Oct 7, 2013 at 4:57 AM by Jon Ericson

Unfortunately, I ran into the previous issue again, so my account was suspended for seven days. I more than well deserved it and completely agree with moderators here. At this point, I finally realized that serial downvoting, even if it is just 3-4 votes against bad quality content, is not the way forward. This has not been an issue anymore as far as I can tell to run into “serial downvoting”. Lesson learned. Thanks to the moderators for the help. Again, I appreciate this because it is really better to never engage in serial downvoting.

= ABOUT 9-12 MONTHS LATER and not due to inactivity (no grudges held?) =

4) Date: Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 5:07 PM by Shog9

After a couple of post disassociations on Meta as-per the creative commons license as recommended to me by some old contributors, I got banned for a month. This was the first ban which I think was strange coming without prior warning out of the thin air.

I definitely did not agree with Shog9 about this (unlike in the previous cases), but I did accept his viewpoint regardless. I think it is quite silly to ban someone for a month due to that, but despite my opinion, I moved on and noted that I should not do this ever again. As far as I can tell, I’ve stuck to this.

I accepted that disassociation is not simple through the SE platform, so it is better to avoid posting to Meta. SE also suggested to create a puppet account, which I did not want to do. It was better for me to stop asking questions. By this time, I figured that it would be best to remove my meta account or the hot posts on the right side of the main site, but this is not an option; they are forced on us.

I reached the stage where I learned from and respected the type of issues that resulted in previous bans. I have not repeated the same behaviour again. I think Brad Larson is unfair when he writes I did not improve my behavior towards the “code of conduct” of the site. Since these issues not happened again, I’d call it as an improvement. Brad, I do not mean to argue, but honestly, I have tried to do my best. If you really do not see progress here, it would be nice to sit down and work out a plan to help me improve on this, beyond simply trying not to repeat them. I am all ears and appreciate feedback.

5) Fri, Nov 28, 2014 at 11:40 PM by Shog9

I got a one day ban. He mentioned that to me that I harrassed people linking these two threads:

1) http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/277923/are-your-code-works-fine-for-me-answers-acceptable/277924#277924

and

2) http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/277859/failed-audit-why-is-this-a-good-question

As you can see, the former case shows that several people agreed with me and since the comments are still there, it has not been deemed offensive, let alone abusive. As for the second, I realize that the community does not agree with my opinion, so I removed my comments pretty much within 1-2 hours (as far as memory serves) without moderator intervention.

I tried to ask for further feedback as well as requesting the messages to be made public so that others can see. Even at the time of writing this, sadly I did not get a green light, so I am trying to explain it from my perspective. I would have so much loved to discuss these comments with them in a peaceful environment where we can sit down, but this has not come to happen.

Furthermore, as you can see, these two threads are on Meta, so even if was abusive (which was not my intention), that is no reason to suspend my account on Stack Overflow in my humble opinion with due respect. I think if it has been determined that someone has been abusive on one site, that should not automatically disqualify that person from other sites where there have not been such concerns.

They banned me for a year for being abusive. I have tried to ask SE and the mods several times for concrete examples, but unfortunately I have not received any. Moreover, I have asked to allow me to make all the conversation public, but they didn’t reply to that, either. Perhaps, others could have helped me to interpret their messages if the language barrier is making things more difficult for all concerned.

They have been banned from chat on multiple occasions (currently serving a 30-day ban at the time this happened).

I am sorry Brad, but that is just incorrect. I was not serving a 30-day ban. In fact, I was quite active in the Close/Delete voters chat room right before the ban and I do not remember a single chat ban on Stack Overflow. I humbly request to be careful when stating such things publicly. Since I cannot reply, it’s very important to get the details correct, in the interests of fairness.

Overall, this is a a really sad situation that we have to “communicate” like this other than sitting down in a chat room, Skype, or anywhere where we can peacefully discuss all what bug us. All of us are here to make the site better, even if some people think I am not. I would have really appreciated clear communication with proper conversation between us. Moderators usually just criticised, and hardly replied to further inquiries making it more of a monologue than a dialogue, sadly.

I still hope that Brad, Shog9, Andrew and everyone else involved can sit down with me to discuss it. I am not referring to ban lifting, but even if I ever come back to the site, I cannot see how this issue could be resolved without clear “off-comment” and “off-Q/A” communication between us and honestly, I have personally missed that. It is a bit of shame, really. I think this could all have been avoided with such “back-channel” communication.

I wrote to the SE staff a couple of days ago to peacefully discuss my case. Let us see what happens. In the meantime, if moderators would like to sit down for a discussion or just to answer questions that I sent to them already, they are more than welcome. My private email address is lpapp at archlinux.us. I hope we can get in touch for such a discussion rather than communicating like this. It benefits no-one I believe.

The almighty Meta Stack Overflow effect in action

We still need some time to recover from the loss of our last victim, but here goes the next post about the almighty and all-pervading ME (Meta Effect). Someone has just brought our attention today to a question on Meta Stack Overflow about a deleted question on Stack Overflow.

Not only was the Meta Stack Overflow question OP partially asking for 15 (!) reputation points, but actually the original OP of the question on Stack Overflow obtained about 30 downvotes due to the “meta effect” and the answer got at least 30-35 upvotes as of writing this.

The main irony in this is that the “poor” answerer, who temporarily lost 15 reputation points, gained a gold badge while half of the answerer’s reputation is now coming from this effect!

Yes, really, he did accomplish all this within a very short while; incredible. Let us see what the badge description writes:

Reversal Provided answer of +20 score to a question of -5 score. This badge can be awarded multiple times.
Our question is: why does this badge even exist at all, let alone the possibility to be awarded multiple times? Many of us think that we should not answer very poor questions and if it is not that poor, it should not be that downvoted. Even then, it is certainly an incredible amount of “instant” downvote avalanche. As one of the commenters has rightfully put it:
I’ve seen post with meaningless random text and spam with less down-votes.
To wrap it up: A person complaining about the 15 (!) reputation points rather than keeping information around got many upvotes for the meta question and the original OP on Stack Overflow was lashed out, while the person answering such an apparently poor question earned a gold badge.
Let us grab the opportunity on the behalf of the authors to wish you a Happy New Year in 2015!

Stack Overflow: Yet Another Trusted User eliminated

There are times when certain situations in life become a bit difficult or at least different. Having had the precedence of H2CO3, Your Common Sense, and so forth, we have another contributor now liquidated on Stack Overflow.

One may have noticed that another active and useful contributor was suspended yesterday.

yx7N3First and foremost, we have been notified now that he got several comments lately that this is his blog series. I would like to clarify that this is not meant to be his personal blog. This is a general blog supposed to be run by people who have constructive criticism towards Stack Overflow because believe it or not, we  do not think that Stack Overflow is only bad. We think that it is very useful in many senses. Please head over on to the About page if you would like to read our official statement.

While he did not wish to quote it directly to keep private sentences private for all fairness, he did not mind sharing the moderator’s point using his own words:

After enough warnings, more than one user expressed that they would rather leave the site than working with him due to his abusive behavior.

That is the main message of the suspension. He could not explain what exactly it would mean as he did not understand the reasoning himself. The moderators had not replied earlier either when he tried to ask for clarification 1-2 months ago in a similar situation. Even though he, as many other people had arguments about the operation of the site, he has not come through such users himself who literally left the site because of some abusive behavior.

Moreover, he admitted that he asked the moderators and SE staff whether he could make these messages public whether others can spot anything wrong, but they unfortunately ignored this request, too, so he could not reveal them. This is a bit of shame, really.

This is sure not to say there are not such users, but he did not notice them himself, I believe. I wonder what the people think who have closely worked with him on improving the C++/Qt questions and doing the cleanups.

The reasoning may sound similar to you should you recall what exactly happened to Your Common Sense. We would like to remind you that he was suspended for a year about half a year ago for very similar reasons:

Actively driving potential contributors away.

I will skip H2CO3’s story this time. That may be a subject for another blog post. Anyhow, in our humble opinion, this is a bit of shame, really!

Back to his contribution:

* More than 1100 answers to the site over the course of 14 months, mostly good quality content based on the community feedback. This usually decreased the unanswered questions from 60% to 36-50%.

* Reviewed about 3000-5000 posts lately per month casting a lot of close and delete votes on, flagging low-quality posts and the like.

* Launched the “Delete Voters” chat room project similar to the “Close Voters” chat room where he got some initial positive feedback.

That means he has not only been answering questions, but taking proper care of cleaning up the site.This is a rare combination on Stack Overflow, but probably goes without saying: very much appreciated.

I imagine that his dedication to the community, willingness to help others for free in his spare time, energy, skills and talent will be missed!

Let us all hope that he does not lose his motivation in life to help newcomers with questions and doubts wherever and whenever he can., especially if it is for free in his spare time.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have got anything constructive to say, even if just that this person should never be allowed to come back to the site or should not exist.

About Stack Overflow’s screwed moderator system

Hi ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome back to our weekly blog posts that intend to constructively criticize Stack Overflow’s function and the Stack Exchange site overall. It has been a pleasure to see so many views that these blog posts get.

We have not even dreamed about it, but it is really cool to see it happening. We would like to express my greatest gratitude for that to you guys even if you disagree with what we write over here! Enough of that said, let us get back to
our main topic today.

As you may probably already well know, the Stack Exchange sites are community moderated. Just in case, so that we know that we are on the same page, the moderation happens in different layers:

Moderation by regular users via so called “privileges”

The higher reputation you gain, the more power you have on the site, including meta, i.e. not just the main site. The highest privilege is becoming a Trusted User at 20K reputation as of today. Typically, this is not particularly difficult to achieve if you are an expert of a technical area, especially if that is a very common mainstream thing, e.g. Java or C#.

Some people have achieved this in a few months, including me, even though these volunteers are employed, have families, other hobbies and all that. At this privilege level, you can see deleted posts, vote for closure, reopen, deletion undeletion (also on answers) with certain limitation and all that.

Elected moderator team

There are annual elections held and the team members are elected by the community, who are not necessarily affiliated with Stack Exchange by any means and they usually are not. There are currently 17 moderators on Stack Overflow as of writing this. The last election raised three new moderators on board. I must confess that the election process is relatively good, although there are some quirks in there, too, including severe ones.

For instance, last time in the beginning of this year a 100K+ expert was led to committing account suicide after getting many childish and revenge downvotes on his answers all around. His honest mistake was to be culturally different than some other “valuable” contributors who happened to be childish with committing to revenge activities. Either way, they called the nominee snarky and that is why he “deserved” many downvotes on technically correct and valuable answers.

Anyway, this team has much more power than the Trusted Users in the previous group. They have binding close votes, they can delete posts, even selected answers or upvoted and positively scored questions; they can also undelete posts and once they delete posts, other community members cannot undelete them unless they also happen to be at least elected  moderators. They can also suspend users, modify spam flags on posts, investigate more about puppet accounts, remove comments and all that jazz. They cannot, however, disassociate users from the their posts as per the Creative license!

Community managers

These are the Stack Exchange employees that even have more power than the community elected moderators. They can talk to the site developers for deeper analysis about pretty much anything that is happening all over the place, but they can also have access to tools for detecting serial down/up vote patterns, etc. They can also disassociate contributors from their posts as per the Creative license. You could call these the kings and queens in kingdom.

Since many of us already have a great job, enjoying and living in harmony with it, it is unlikely that the vast majority of the community will ever apply for this category. As I already wrote above, the first category is relatively easy to achieve if you are really good at what you are doing, and willing to help newcomers with your skills and knowledge. I am hereby willing to write more about the “middlemen”. To be honest, it is not fair to call them middlemen since that usually raises negative feeling among technical people (or even outside) in the UK, so I will call them their name, diamond moderators.

As you may have hopefully noticed above, and I hope you indeed did since that means you read the post carefully in every important detail, this team consists of 17 members as of today. You may be pondering why I am emphasizing this fact again. Alright, let us give some food for thought in here: Stack Overflow has gazillion posts even per day and that is just posts! How about the noisy comments that, I believe, happen in large amount, too?

To give some exact, concrete and real numbers without gut feeling, I looked up the meta site for further statistics. There was a meta post last October that says that there are about 7.2K questions and 15.84K answers per day. That sums up to 23 K posts.

I am fairly certain there is at least that amount of comment taking place, too, if not much more! It is probably needless to repeat, but these numbers are just raising up over time as the tendency shows that more and more people come to Stack Overflow to ask (mostly silly) questions since this is the first google hit for them when looking for programming answers, sometimes coming up even overtaking the official documentation in the given field.

Right, I am hearing you…. moderators ain’t so overloaded because there are a large number of Trusted Users and otherwise useful contributors who aid their job. There is probably some agreement there for most of the parts, but are they really not overloaded for the worse of the site? Can we revisit that question for a moment, please? Alright, you are claiming that most of the moderation queues are well handled, the site is getting more and more popular, so everything has been working fine. Why are you even criticizing then?! OK, fair enough, but please bear with me for a moment; I will throw some observation in.

* Post per diamond moderator for one day

First and foremost, let me repeat, there were about 23K+ posts per day around last year and very likely much more comments. Considering 17 moderators, that is probably about 1400-1500 posts per day for a moderator with the help of the community. That is a very high number, let me repeat, that is a lot, especially since most of the questions are somewhat rubbish on Stack Overflow, and that is not what I am saying. That is what the community has been saying at large, including old-time and freshly joined experts.

* tag per diamond moderator

This is also a quite interesting and important metric here in my opinion, namely: there are at least about 100 tags which need experts on daily basis, and most of them more than just one to answer questions, let alone moderating. I may actually be underestimating the important tags in here since I have just taken the first 3-4 tag pages into account based on all-time traffic, and there are always raising tags, like the new shiny Swift language tag after Apple’s announcement, that is getting very huge traffic. Anyway, this means about six extremely popular and common tags to moderate. This does not require a genius to claim that due to this, moderators usually need to act out of their expertise when judging which inherently leads to mistaken actions.

* meta questions per diamond moderator

There are usually lots of questions on meta sites addressed to diamond moderators that probably they can answer the best way without other community members writing gut feelings down. This also consumes their resource relatively heftily. This is not to underestimate either since one of the diamond moderation nomination principles is that you ought to be hanging on Meta a lot to know the community and its rules well.

* meta post moderation per diamond moderator

This is another thing to consider, respectively. Although with the Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow meta split, things got a bit better since the reputation from the main site entitles you to moderate with the same privileges as on the main site. Still, this puts further burden on the moderators’ shoulder. I would say the discussions are usually even more heated on Meta than Stack Overflow, so this is not a negligible amount of work here, either.

* chat and other communication channels

Not rarely, moderators are “pinged” in chats, email and via other means to discuss issues about the operation of the site. This is again further time taken from them. I am sure there are other issues, too, that I have forgotten to mention or just not been aware of!

* technical participation to provide answers and comments

Yes, this is not necessarily unusual either. Some moderators may still prefer to spend their free time with providing good answers to interesting questions that newcomers may have. This could also consume a considerable amount of time from them depending on the involvement proportion.

So, as you can see, there is a lot of work to be done from their side based on the responsibilities they accepted before nominating themselves. Still, I think they cannot fulfill the responsibilities that they have. I see that regularly that valid comment flags are declined, when for instance they are marked as obsolete, just because they do not understand the context or they do not even have time to do so.

This is not only sad in that particular scenario that the mess is left there intact, and hence the noise, but what is more unfortunate is that the experts may completely lose the motivation to flag such content anymore and will not be part of this workflow. In other words, it is demoralizing which could lead to all kinds of bad avalanche if that expert expresses the demotivation in public without suggesting a cure that is followed by the moderator team, or even considered.

This is again a real world example. One of us was lurking in the “Tavern” chat on Meta Stack Exchange when one of the diamond moderators proudly wrote that he had handled about 1K flags in one day. This sounded truly impressive at first followed by huge gratitude from the participants. But let us step back for a moment: how many flags really does that include? It does not require a mathematician to realize that it is more than 33 flags per hour, which in turn means one flag per every two minutes.

While, it is possible to burn several comments in one go after understanding the context, I find this very inconvenient and uncomfortable because I am almost certain this had not included the real quality job needed for each individual action. That is, and do not forget that I have calculated this number with 24 hours per day, and this was a week day if I remember  correctly. What about family, school/work, eating, having shower, girlfriend time or just sleeping? This number will be much higher when those are rightfully taken into account.

Unfortunately, I also notice that there several questions brought up on Meta, almost on a daily, but at least weekly basis about diamond moderator mistakes or not completely careful actions from them. What is even worse than that is that they seem to oftentimes take defensive stance rather than admitting mistakes upfront. I completely understand where they are coming from with a lot of work to be accomplished, but frankly, I think this pressure is turning them into what they are.

I do not think being defensive is the right action to call for in this scenario. I also have several inappropriately declined flags and some still pending after a couple of weeks that I have not brought up for remedy, and I will likely simply not do so to avoid the conflicts. But then again, this is kinda defeating the original purpose of the community moderation if we are let down by bad reactions. Having said that, you reach the point at times after which you just give up, and that is relatively understandable.

You may be claiming at this point that yeah, you agree with us that there is a lot on the moderators’ plate, but what could be done here other than doing our Trusted User and other roles extraordinarily well? They are trying to improve the web UI for moderators at Stack Exchange you are saying… Oh yeah?

Well, the solution is really relatively easy and simple in our humble opinion, but of course this means there is more trust to be given Trusted Users and experts from Stack Exchange’s side. They are called Trusted Users for a reason after all! I would give them much more power than they have, either through a selection process or just by badges (gold, silver, etc.).  We have been speaking about this for a long while now.

Luckily, after a lot of pushing, Stack Exchange seems to have started doing something about it in this regard as experts can now mark questions duplicate or even unduplicate them with one single action. However, this is still very far from what the normal situation would be in our opinion. The noisy comment walls are still there uncleaned oftentimes, some poor questions  and answers are still unhandled, and do not forget about the important fact that it is just raising over time, sadly. I will not reiterate all the issues that I have written above. I think you got the point.

I will finish it here for today. Hope that you have enjoyed this blog post, too, and as usual, we will be back next week. We will write a bit more about the expert role in the Stack Overflow community, but let us leave the long details with the upcoming blog post.

You will be more than welcome to come back, dear reader. We wish you an awesome week ahead; be happy and smile a lot!

Why Stack Overflow’s Voting System Is Truly Harmful

Hey guys,

We are back this week again! In this blog post, we are exploring the voting mechanism on the site since you may already know that voting is one of the super-duper important key factors on Stack Overflow. We will see what the future holds with respect to our motivation, but for now, our enthusiasm is still up to the task!

When you like a post, let it be a question or an answer, you can vote on it if you have enough reputation. You only need 125 reputation for downvoting, and 25 reputation for upvoting as of writing this. This sounds all so cool at first glance because it is relatively easy to get to this level. Basically, a few good posts will get you there. Let us see the practical implication,  however.

Many people have brought this up — even before my involvement with relatively strong opinion on the topic — that voting is the root of all kinds of evil. Some contributors have put it even more harsh and snarkier than me, a couple of times. TL;DR: the fundamental law of the voting system is that

    It is not constructive since it does not enforce the system to be objective.

Alright, I already hear you asking why I would think so? Thank you for the question. The ancient mantra says If a post is good enough, it will be upvoted over time, otherwise it will be downvoted. I can see where you are coming from — with mature people in an ideal world, yes, but if that was the case, we would have no wars around the world, like currently in Ukraine and Gaza; everything would be like in Alice’s world.

I would not like to get involved in politics here, but let me put it clear: unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Therefore, in my opinion, we need to establish the right tools that ensure that the assessment of a post remains healthy, sustainable, objective and constructive.

OK, so you probably have the question at this point: “What do you suggest we do to resolve this issue?”. That is a valid question and I certainly appreciate it since this is a core issue in the system that needs an urgent solution in our opinion. So, let me elaborate a little bit more on this.

I would like to be able to see downvotes with explanation to see how a post can be improved in the end of the day. This sounds simple and easy, but let us see why could not have happened in practice so far and what concerns some people keep bringing up. The first couple of points are pretty lame in my opinion, but let us go through them one-by-one with due respect:

1) “I just want freedom not to leave comments.”

Freedom for what exactly? What do you gain by not leaving a comment? Do you gain some time that could be spent on other activities? But then why don’t you just do those other activities with full attention? Let me ask you: why do you leave pointless downvotes around where the OP (or even other users) may have no clue what could be improved?

2) “There is no point in leaving a comment when it is so evident.”

It may be evident to you, but apparently it is not so evident to the OP as well as for other visitors, potentially. Again, it is not constructive to just say “your post sucks” without pointing out “the obvious”. We are also back to the assumption, as anytime with the downvotes, that the downvoter may be wrong.

3) “I am sure others who have more time will explain it.”

Oh, come on… What will happen if everyone has the same opinion, and if you do, others are surely as entitled to it as you are, yeah? It would be a “good” excuse for everyone to escape and the OP may potentially never get the actual reason. That is not so respectful. Even if others are bringing up some issues later, they may do so with ones different from hose you had in mind.

4) “But I do not have the time to leave comments explaining the issue that I see, yet my vote is a piece of very useful contribution to the site.”

Again, if you do not have time to point out the issues, why are you even voting? It is possible that you are completely wrong. I am not saying this is always the case, but it is one possibility anyhow. If you explain your reasons, the OP may be able to clarify the post. Even if you are right, it would be awesome to get the post improved, and a simple -1 does not necessarily help with that. The OP may do another review just in case without any findings.

5) “I would not like to leave a comment because then the OP may go around and start voting on my posts subjectively, potentially with sockpuppet accounts.”

This is the first really valid (well, semi-valid) concern to which I would like to give a bit more consideration, since this is about the basis of all the subjective revenge-voting pattern. It is too easy to go around, track users through their profile, find their posts on meta, moderator application, or just memorize them for upcoming posts, etc. It is really not the right thing to do! Let me say the least:

If you do not try to explain your reasoning, you keep feeding the system to remain as it is today without any systematic change.

If you prefer downvoting without a reason, subjectivity will always remain there, against which you are trying to act. I understand your reasoning and absolutely appreciate it. I just think that achieving your goal ought not happen by this means.

If you need to leave a comment, and the OP goes around to downvote your posts, close vote them, et al, then the OP will also need to leave some reasoning, otherwise it might be very suspicious and you can start flagging the comments or just ignore them completely. Pardon me, but rubbish reasons are still better than no reasons for a post since then at least the reader can know that the several downvotes on the post or all of them are unjustified from the technical angle. Anyway, the point is that the OP will not be able to escape as easily from objectivity as he currently can.

6) “I already wrote to the OP under other posts what was wrong and that is recurring in certain cases.”

This is yet another lame excuse in my opinion. The reason for that is basically as usual: this may not be evident to the OP and as such, nothing may be found on a second read of the posts. It is also possible that the OP disagreed with you on another post, and thinks that you are gone, and will not come back to him, or at least not so frequently. The OP may think that why this downvote could be happening. Also, it can be a downvote due to personal style issues, too, which is inherently subjective and that is why the OP does not care.

Yet, the OP may be absolutely entitled to know what the real reason is behind a downvote, and he needs to know it too so as to see whether the post can be improved in any objective and meaningful way.

7) “I do not wish to look like a negative and non-constructive person by mentioning my downvote, even with a reason.”

I can understand where you are coming from, but constructive downvoting and explanations are done for good. Let us have good faith and say that it allows the site to make proper growth for its quality content. You and the OP may call it a good day since both of you have potentially learned something new along the way in the productive discussion, and the future readers, the posterity, will also be very grateful for the top-quality content contributed, especially if this is a good answer or an excellent question for a recurring issue.

Once the issue is fixed after some constructive discussion and the comments are removed as becoming obsolete to reduce the noise, no future reader will know this other than from looking at the post history. Let us state the obvious: this would not really happen oftentimes and even if it did, that means some trust to the reader because that means the post got stabilized, robust, etc.

I am probably explaining it too verbosely, but what I am trying to convey is that constructive collaboration is very useful for everyone involved and that is why many experts go to Stack Overflow in my experience. They would also like to get feedback, let it be a “thank you” or constructive criticism, but they can learn, educate and provide quality content in the open.

8) “I would not like to leave a comment with my concerns because the OP is known to be too argumentative.”

Right, so there are two cases here to distinguish between, namely:

* The OP is argumentative because he cares a lot about important details. This may well be healthy, actually, as long as it is
really an important detail. Even if you may require more time to discuss the post on this level compared to the initially anticipated level, this may be well worth it. You may lose your motivation to go down this road, but if it still has objective merit, it is still useful and important to the improvement, please go for it, or at least write your concerns down on your level so that the OP can at least follow up with a potential edit.

* The OP is mostly arguing for the sake of arguing. Sure, there are such cases and people, sadly; no disagreement there. What I suggest in that case is not to engage in unproductive discussions for your own sake. Still, write down the things objectively and follow up any objective comments. You can ignore all the subjective comments that may potentially just be brought up needlessly. Of course, you always have the option not to engage in anything, but then I think your vote is unfair.

9) “I do not want to repeat the previous comments written.”

This is one of the most appropriate responses insofar. Fair enough, I would say. This is the reason why the comment upvote feature was rightfully established long ago. If you agree with a comment written, you do not need to reiterate that by potentially duplicating the content. You can easily reduce the noise this way. You can click on the up arrow to show that you agree with previous comment and the OP will know that there is more than just one person to it who think the same or at least very similar about the post.

I have no problem with upvoting a valid and exciting comment instead of reiterating. In fact, I completely support and encourage it to avoid the noise by having “+1 to foo” comments and the like all over the place. Having said that, please do not forget to do this seemingly minor, yet very useful action. It costs you only one click after all.

10) “We already have some pop-up text encouraging the downvoters to explain their downvoters to be constructive and helpful.”

Honestly, I am having mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I can understand where the moderators and community managers are coming from – they also think that it would be much more productive -, but on the other hand I think that this feature does not only bypass the main problem, but it even makes the situation worse.

The fundamental issue with such “etiquette options” in the web world is that it is too easy and simple to get used to ignoring them. It does not really cost you much effort if you do not wish to leave a comment. Practically speaking, I have been ignoring quite a few disturbing “etiquette” and other options on the web out there. I can say that based on experience that I almost do not even bother obeying them, nor do I even notice them anymore. I just got used to the fact that they do not exist in my world since they annoyed the hell out of me at times.

The same principle goes here – if you really do not wish to post comments to be really helpful and constructive, it will be relatively easy to keep ignoring that mystical pop-up. Therefore, this option has just become the “lame excuse” in my opinion. Whenever someone would like to propose an enforcing tool, this always comes up as a “defense” against solving the problem for real. Thereby, this has become an obstacle in the way and that is why I think it makes things now worse than if it had not existed in the first place.

    Towards the proposal

Alright, let us lean towards providing a proposal which I think would save this part of the site!

Some people think that the best place to address this issue is not in the core foundation but only on the surface, and by applying certain “customization”, such as:

* Freezing posts to reduce the “Meta effect”

* Reveal post visits on the profile page

* Run some tools to detect some behavioral patterns, but these are only accessible to community managers and the SE staff, not even to moderators!

* Apply suspensions manually when justified.

* Reverse serial downvotes automatically and sometimes manually.

* Removing comments begging for downvote reasons.

* Revealing them in the first place and flagging them.

While some of these surface activities (reversal and suspension) would remain in place (with much less usage in a more ideal world), most of them do not really try to cure the real root cause of the illness. They are only trying to treat the symptoms. That is the main issue with these tools that take time to develop and even more to time maintain and use, whereas if the issues were addressed properly from the beginning, they would not be as necessary as they currently are. Basically, these tangential non-solutions demand too much time and the community cannot focus on fixing the core issues.

This effort could be used much better. For example, freezing posts to prevent the meta effect is a really strange idea. The problem is not with voting, but unreasonable voting. Voting is very useful as long as it is constructive and objective. Banning such votes are harmful and inconsiderate in my opinion. One thing is clear, however — even moderators and community managers started to see and/or admit the problem, even if just partially. The problem that we have been talking about for a long time now.

OK, so I have tried to elaborate quite extensively on the “show stopper” issues in order to be fair and informative. As you can see, I do not really share the idea that they are really show stopper blocking issues. Feel free to come up with new reasons if you have any. I would be very keen on discussing them because I think the current system is really not good enough, and I think the issues should be addressed unless I am convinced by some other reasons, of course. My proposal for the time being is as simple as this:

Make comments mandatory for downvotes, but make it possible to exchange that with comment upvotes if there are existing comments that cover your view.

Oh, I hear you: it puts too much burden on the poor contributors. Let me briefly ask you one question: how often do you find a “your contribution sucks” only comment useful or even appearing at all on say, mailing lists, other forums, IRC channels, code review tools in projects, et cetera? I think now you may start to understand that why this is a bare minimum requirement for a healthy, sustainable, constructive and objective site like this.

This would be a relatively simple, yet very powerful addition to resolve most of the subjective and non-constructive hazard in the system. If this is too much as a starting point for the community, this could be even softened further down with additional ideas that you can read right below.

1) Make it possible to leave comments anonymously.

While it is possible to establish this with some work, I think it does not bring much gain. You are already not anonymous when leaving an answer or comment elsewhere, so this would not be much different here either. Having said that, if the community thinks this would make things nicer, I would accept it as a compromise for the time being. Just let us do steps towards the final solution, already!

2) Only enforce the reason from -X scores.

This could be applied to -2 or -3. In the latter case, it would be enforced at the time the post goes gray to be less appealing. At least, that is how it works at the time of writing these lines. This would make it possible to leave downvotes without reasoning for the first 1-2 times, but not afterwards.

I think that is pretty much it for today. You deserve my hats off if you had made to this point! As usual, stay tuned, we will be right back with another important issue next week. You will probably be very surprised about that piece of criticism, but I won’t uncover the topic just yet.

Hope to see you coming back. Have a lovely week ahead with a lot of useful contribution and life stories!

Why is Meta Stack Overflow broken?

Hi there again,

Many people keep asking me the question:

“If you have any issues with the operation of Stack Overflow, why don’t you just go to the meta site to bring them up?”.

Familiar? I frequently get this question from people who agree with me, but to be fair, also from people who do not share my views. It is certainly a valid question to ask, even I asked this a couple of times from myself.

I promised in my previous post that I would share the issues with Meta and why it is not the right place to discuss issues about the main site. This is also the reason why this “Expert Flow” blog was created. Here it goes.

As usual, the disclaimer holds that this is a relatively long blog post without an initial “TL;DR” section, so if you want to read something about this topic, you will need dedication and commitment to reading.

There are so many issues with Meta that I am not even sure where to start. I will rather start with defining what an ideal Meta site would mean for us when we have some difficulty with the main site and wish to discuss that or even when we just wish to share some positive story about things that are working well. An ideal discussion forum should be:

* welcoming
* concise
* fair
* purposeful
* driven by community decisions
* trustworthy

So far so good, most of you would probably even agree with most of this list. Now, let us examine a bit how Meta Stack Overflow is achieving at these.

Welcoming

It is not unusual that people do not really have good faith on the meta site. When you feel a site welcoming, you like going there. You know that people will welcome you with good faith, so even if you are wrong, they will not start finding small pot-holes in your question that they can jump on and attack all of a sudden.

I talked to several people on Meta, and most of them report that they do not visit the site anymore because of the unwelcoming behavior and atmosphere. There are cases where newcomers wanted to ask valid questions with humility, and were downvoted to oblivion without proper criticism given to the person to learn. This is not nice, especially when the newcomer went there to actually learn and be educated about the site.

It should be appreciated rather than jumped upon. I wish some hard-minded people from Stack Overflow had this attitude, at least.

Concise

Unfortunately, the site is full of very noisy threads where people keep arguing about insignificant details, whether it is spelled “organize” or “organise”. I am just exaggerating with this example, but obviously, there are cases which are completely irrelevant to the point in question, and as such: unfortunately, it raises the well-known noise vs. signal ratio.

Okay, okay, let us forget about that for a second, what about the many declined flags that people keep bringing up? Well, the moderators and community managers apparently prefer declining noisy comment flags because they think it is good and acceptable on Meta since it is “different than the main site”.

They do not see any problem with that. This makes certain otherwise important questions and answers relatively difficult to follow. This is sad.

Fair

There are many examples here to be given, sadly. Let us start with the usual unexplained downvotes argument? Hey, you could ask: why are there even downvotes at all on a “welcoming site”?

But even if there are, why allow unexplained revenge-games?

Let us pretend that for a second, this is all my imagination that puts it there, there is still one issue that I must mention about fairness in here, namely:

Why can people start voting for a proposal upfront without discussion period?

I mean, if there is no discussion period and anyone can start voting on gut feelings and first impression which will likely not be changed later, especially without post edits, so what is the point? I mean really? Is it fair not to give a chance for the late replies?

Oh, but I hear you, if the late post is solid, it will get the precedence over. In an ideal world, sure, but have you ever heard about mass voting, when people headlessly vote based on the current score balance? And even if that was not the case, how often do you go back to change your votes, surely not oftentimes?

It is not unusual that opposite opinions to moderators and community managers are removed all of a sudden. I did see it happening to people, unfortunately more often than I wished. It is not nice.

There was even an occasion where a 450+ K contributor got his post removed, then three 20K+ contributors decided to bring it back, and right after that, a moderator did not like it, and removed it again, and then of course, the 20K+ contributors could not undelete it again. That is how these things tend to go, sadly.

Oh, have I mentioned to you that a 100+ K reputation user has quit the site not much after he nominated himself for a moderator position? You could say that it is unfortunate, but it is more than that: some people go around for meta and such posts and downvote completely valid answers and questions from the OP in question. Usually, the highest and lowest scoring posts are the targets of these, or somewhere among those lines. This is just unacceptably childish, and if this is
not revenge, what is it?

At some point, some people will lose the motivation after the downvoting finger exercise, unjustified comment removals, and all that. One may decide to disassociate the name from meta in 3-5 posts or so. It is a practical example that a person got one-month long ban without prior example, warning, and what-so-ever. Not only that, the person even got affected by it on the main site, not only on meta!

Now, this is I think the point where we cannot speak about fairness anymore.

Purposeful

Yes, I mean purposeful in the way that it is meant for questions and answers, proposals, et al. What it is not meant for is submitting a question which does not seek any discussion, in our opinion. Yes, I hear you, I hear you, there is a close reason for such questions, yet community managers and some moderators tend to just submit “rules” there.

Yep, questions that do not seek any discussion at all; they do not go to the help center or other official sub-sites after some discussion and voting period, as read-only content until the next change, nope.

They keep spreading these on the already convoluted and noisy meta site so that if you are lucky, you may find an important rule in the bunch there, but you really need to be lucky.

I do not even mention that these posts on meta are inherently read-write, so anyone can chime in and modify the official rule. While, it is possible to revert or even lock later, it is still additional manual work.

Community decisions

You would think that the community decides on such a meta site, yeah? This is unfortunately not the case. There have been threads where the community has had vastly different opinions compared to the moderators. One typical case was the debate about flagging link-only old answers, but upvoted answers.

The community got an answer outstanding of the rest which said that moderators do accept flags for link-only, but upvoted answers. Do you guys think anything has changed ever since? Not really. Those poor posts still live among us!

Trustworthy

If there is no welcoming atmosphere, there is no fairness to it, there are no community decisions, and I could keep enumerating these… Can we really say this site is trustworthy into which you happily put your leisure time hours and you get fun in turn? I personally do not think so. Being welcoming, fair and heard (and for real, not just in theory) are essential for me. If I do not find these basic human values somewhere, it will stop being fun at some point, and will stop contributing to it at large.

Summary

That is it for today. As you can see, there are several issues with the site and by now, the moderators and even the community managers began to realize it – just read their recent proposals. In the beginning, however, we were always called names for telling them the same thing that they start realizing themselves. They need to understand when we bring these issues up, it is not because we wish to cause more pain for them, but to make the site more useful for its original mission and more sustainable in the far future.

That being said, I am happy to see some progress from them, even if probably no apologies may be given, e.g. in case of the ban, et al. Hopefully, we will see some progress and things will become better in the future.

As usual, stay tuned, I will come back with another topic next week to think through in more detail. Thank you for your attention and have a lovely week!