Why I’m no longer contributing to Stack Overflow

Over the last seven years, I’ve been answering questions on Stack Overflow. I’ve answered more than 700 questions which helped 2 million developers. Additionally, I’ve flagged, reviewed and edited a few thousand posts, in order to maintain the site’s quality.

Maintaining the site is not an easy task, as interests between maintainers and the rest of the community are not always aligned. This has always been the case, but I loved participating in it, and it was appreciated by the people who manage Stack Overflow.

Sadly, the latter doesn’t feel true any longer. Over the last two years, it became clear that Stack Overflow does not seem to care about their community, nor their employees.

Why I think that way? Let’s rewind to about a year and a half ago. In October 2018, a discussion about one of Stack Overflow’s feature arose on Twitter. This feature, allowed questions that gained some popularity, to be visible within the sidebar. However, since this was all automated, questions that are not friendly towards other people aren’t filtered from it.

One of the problems of discussing it on Twitter, is that the limitation in amount of characters lead to heated discussion. In addition, a Stack Overflow employee joined the discussion, and rather than trying to mitigate, the employee added more fuel to the discussion. In the Twitter thread, the employee accused the moderators for being obnoxious trolls, and for sealioning.

The result was that this feature was (temporarily) removed. In addition, many community moderators were frustrated with how this was handled.

If one thing was clear, it’s that Stack Overflow had to put more effort into making everyone feel welcome. And so, great initiatives like the new Code of Conduct, the Welcome Wagon and the lifeboat badge were introduced. Fast forward one year later, and one of these initiatives, a Code of Conduct change about using preferred pronouns, was discussed amongst community moderators.

One of these community moderators argued that they prefer to write in a gender-neutral form. And again, in stead of mitigating, a Stack Overflow employee decided to fire the community moderator, and accuse the community moderator for misgendering. This discussion also got the attention of the press, in which the Stack Overflow employee discussed the matter with the press.

Regardless of which side was right or wrong, Stack Overflow should NEVER have dragged the name of one of their community moderators through the mud. Since then, the news article is the number one hit when searching for the community moderator their name. This means that they didn’t only harm the community moderator, but continue to do so in the future, as anyone (potential employers, new people they meet, …) searching for their name will end up with that article.

Rather than apologizing or retracting the statements Stack Overflow made, it took three months, a GoFundMe page and legal actions to get this rectified. Even then, a proper apology is still absent.

The conclusion is that there’s a lot of bad communication happening lately. Stack Overflow matured, and had to evolve their way of communicating. Sadly, by doing so, they burnt several bridges with the community.

Not only that, but they also decided to fire two of their community managers. This especially hurts because one of them was known exactly for building bridges with the community, and now that’s gone.

This leads me to the conclusion that Stack Overflow is not interested in rebuilding these bridges with the community.

You may think… why don’t you just continue answering questions and leave the whole moderation part? Well, I tried that as well. The last few months, I’ve been actively hiding all moderator- and meta-related questions from Stack Overflow using an Ad blocker.

This certainly made it easier for me. However, it doesn’t mean that even though I’m not seeing the problems there are, that there aren’t any.

In addition, Stack Overflow decided to unilaterally change the license of all posts (both past, present and future posts) from Creative Commons 3 to Creative Commons 4. While this change itself is not spectacular, it means that Stack Overflow isn’t hesitant in applying these changes any longer without consulting the community.

It also means that they could change the license to anything they like, and put everything behind a paywall.

So, here I am, January 2020, noticing that Stack Overflow is no longer about the community, nor about being open. Since I really cared about these two things, there isn’t really a reason for me to stay. As a solution, I decided to copy over my popular answers and rewrite them into blogposts. Writing dynamic queries with JPA and Loading initial data with Spring are examples of that.

And at last, I clicked that Logout link for the first time in seven years.

Published by g00glen00b

Consultant at Cronos and Tech lead at Aquafin. Usually you can find me trying out new libraries and technologies. Loves both Java and JavaScript.