Well, the Stack Overflow strike is over. Since I've been writing about the strike quite a bit, I should probably write some sort of conclusion. Like any good negotiation, both sides got some, but not all, of what they wanted:

  • The moderators got the policy allowing AI-generated posts reversed along with some assurance that they will have input in future policy changes.

  • Stack Exchange got volunteer moderators to return to moderating and retained flexibility when it comes to making policy changes in the future.

This might not seem like much of an accomplishment, but everyone who was involved in the negotiation deserves considerable credit for this outcome. In some ways the details matter less than the process. When my wife and I were first married we quickly discovered we were in conflict far more often than either of us expected. We ended up in couples counseling which helped us learn valuable active listening skills. Our momentary conflicts faded into oblivion, but the process of overcoming them keeps our marriage alive. As my sixth grade teacher, Mr. King, told us:

Knowledge is what remains when what is learned has been forgotten.

One hopes the model for conflict resolution in the future won't be a moderator strike, but rather the sort of open communication the parties agreed upon. I generally trust community managers and moderators to communicate effectively and the way the strike was resolved shows this trust is well-earned.

Unfortunately, there are a few other parties involved. I'm reminded of a Twitter thread I wrote shortly after Shog9 and Robert Cartaino were fired. Since I can't edit Twitter, I figured I take this opportunity to quote myself and fix a typo or two along the way:

Something has been gnawing at me all week and I can finally put it into the form of a question today: Why wasn't there a communications plan for when Shog and Robert were let go? Two beloved employees (including employee #5) leaving the company and nothing to explain it? Maybe there was a communications plan that I was not aware of, but it seems to me an answer to a user question on Meta (especially this answer) is rather anemic. By the way, Juan has been treated rather unfairly since he stepped into his current position. He's a good person in a bad circumstance. (See below.)

It occurs to me that the company controlled the timing of the action, but didn't bother to control the narrative. Maybe there are forces I don't know about that require people in the company to act with more haste than is wise. Maybe.

Then it occured to me that the communications plan for my departure, which leadership knew about for more than two weeks, was also surprisingly ill-prepared. Although other people were supposed to be involved, it was basically Juan and I working without direction from outside. I wrote my own farewell post, Juan made a couple of small suggestions and that was it. Other than the two of us, I don't know if anyone thought much about how to position this with the community. It was a nice change of pace, actually.

I suspect part of the reason is that ever since the 2017 layoffs, the company has solidified its policy not to discuss departures publicly. For many reasons, that's a good policy in general, so I'm not saying Stack Overflow ought to air dirty laundry.

I also suspect our departure was not considered particularly momentous to people within the company who are tasked with communication. It was not unusual for a tweet critical of the company to be flagged and for the people triaging such things to decide to ignore it based on a small number of followers. Meta users and moderators will obviously notice a CM departure, but they make up a tiny percentage of all Stack Overflow users. I think the calculation was made that most everyone else on the site wouldn't particularly care. And that logic is, I think, sound.

And then I got to thinking how communications plans were created within the company. Lately the focus has been on blockbuster blog posts, social media and podcasts. These are high impact (by the numbers) communications. In other words, mass communication. I'm not in marketing, but that makes quite a bit of sense. Focus on messages and mediums that reach a lot of people.

Meanwhile, everything I've learned about community management tells me the important communication focuses on important relationships. I'm looking for leaders within the community to connect with so that when I need to communicate something, I know who should hear it. That sort of communication is a lot more work. I frequently need to tell several small groups of people similar, but not quite the same, messages. It's a pain, but I want to honor our relationship and personalize what I have to say.

Anyway, I'm no closer to an answer to my question. If you've read this far, I urge you to consider the fundamental attribution error. The person you are frustrated with is probably motivated by their bad situation rather than bad character.

It's odd how much of that thread would work for the current situation. I'm convinced that the policy that effectively allowed ChatGPT content came straight from the top in order to avoid muddying the waters about Stack Overflow's enthusiasm for AI. It wasn't calculated to cause a strike. Rather the strike was a small price to pay for making the message to rest of the industry clear. The misstep with the data dump was an unfortunate coincidence and quickly rectified. As soon as the big announcement is over, the community team was freed to implement a reasonable policy.