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How does Codidact avoid repeating Stack Exchange's mistakes?

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I received an important question in private email, and I'm bringing it here so we can improve on the answer I sent. This won't be the last time we get this question; let's develop a clear, effective response.

The question, slightly paraphrased, was:

How will you prevent Codidact from repeating the problems that got Stack Exchange (SE) into its current state? What, in your opinion, caused SE's problems, and how are you avoiding them?

To elaborate a bit, those problems include:

  • SE management neglecting, ignoring, and then changing things out from under the communities they host and the volunteers who support them (e.g. license changes, policy changes), apparently for financial reasons

  • Lack of transparency and accountability in company actions that affect communities

  • Community turmoil caused by company actions that seem mysterious and harmful, and community fragmentation and decline as some leave, others stay, some change their behavior, and so on

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6 comments

I've posted the reply I sent as an answer here. I am very interested in seeing other responses. Monica Cellio‭ 12 months ago

Monica probably won't fire herself dustytrash‭ 12 months ago

This question seems to be missing context. Before you can answer the ways to avoid SE's mistakes, you need to clarify what mistakes you are referring to. If this thread is to become the canonical source to answer the question, then the mistakes need to be described. IOW, what do you mean by "current state"? wrp‭ 10 months ago

@wrp I don't know if this is going to be a canonical source; I was trying to answer a challenge I've received once and I assume we'll receive again. I've added some details to the question; I'm also happy to see this turn into a true community Q&A, though I don't think we have a special status for that yet. Please feel free to propose edits, add an answer, or otherwise improve this. Thanks! Monica Cellio‭ 10 months ago

I think the abbr. "SE'" should be introduced. Peter Mortensen‭ 3 months ago

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3 answers

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You ask an important question. If Codidact just becomes Stack Exchange Inc. version 2 in several years, we've failed our communities and ourselves. We don't want to go down the path that SE took; we all saw where that led. So we're doing some things differently from the start.

First, Codidact is a not-for-profit venture. We will never get our priorities from stockholders or venture capitalists looking to make a profit. The need to greatly increase their profits is a major cause of the changes SE has been making.

Second, the Codidact platform is open-source. We will be running an instance and welcoming a network of communities, but any community that feels we have lost our way, or just has different goals, can leave at any time, taking not only the content but the software as well. Anybody can set up another instance. On SE, in comparison, while people can take the content, the software itself is proprietary -- so you can't just take your community and set it up easily somewhere else, but you need to get new software first. Because SE's business depends on that proprietary software, they will never change that policy. We are open from the start.

Because we're not bound to people seeking a profit, we are free to be much more community-driven than is possible on SE. Different communities have different needs, at both the software and policy level. SE in recent years has been centralizing control, making it harder for communities to do what is best for themselves. Our instance will have some lightweight rules too; for example we don't want to host neo-Nazi groups or 4chan or that sort of things. But everybody who follows our very basic code of conduct is welcome. We're not going to micro-manage communities.

There are never guarantees in life; it's always possible that something bad that I can't currently imagine would happen someday. But we're doing our best to avoid repeating SE's mistakes, and we think being open, accountable, and free gives us our best shot to do right by the communities that join us.

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2 comments

I would be interested to know exactly how SE's for-profit status led to its neglect and lack of transparency. This could affect Codidact's allowed funding models in the future. For example: Wikipedia continually debates whether it should allow ads or optional ads, spin off smaller side projects into semi-profit benefit corporations, or continue to rely only on donations. Would ads lead to the same problems as a for-profit status? Not urgent to consider yet but I would be interested... Jordan‭ about 1 month ago

@Jordan I'll give this more thought to flesh it out more, but I think the problem with SE's profit model is that it led them to pursue business that bypasses the communities -- they make money by selling private Teams/Enterprise instances or through their jobs business. Aside from SO, which they need to promote Teams or Enterprise, their communities could vanish & not hurt their business. That's not true for Wikipedia (as best I can tell), nor for us. We serve our communities first. Monica Cellio‭ about 1 month ago

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Richard Branson once said:

Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients

I'd like to paraphrase that in terms of Codidact.

Take care of your core community, your moderators, your 0.015%, they will take care of your users.

Stack Overflow forgot the core community in order to please their clients and new users. That hurt them. Remembering that the community is your strength and not your weakness would be the best way to not get into similar mistakes.

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One of the key differences is that by being community-driven, Codidact will be able to expand the system in different ways from SE. This includes the ability to host different types of content where SE, for whatever reasons, never did. Current plans, but subject to change, include blogs, canonical answers (the name may change), wikis, sandbox, and other things.

In addition, if any group decides they want additional features and the primary Codidact group of developers does not want to support writing the necessary changes, the group will be free to make changes themselves to the basic Codidact code instead of having to (as we are now!) start from scratch.

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