Get to Know Our New Code of Conduct

Thanks to some amazing efforts and collaboration between our veteran users and quite a few new faces that jumped in to help us with our inclusion efforts, our brand new Code of Conduct (CoC) is rolling off the press and going into effect across the network today. For those of you that haven’t been following along with announcements we’ve been making on our Meta site, we’re replacing our current ‘Be nice’ policy with a formal, far less ambiguous and way more informative Code of Conduct.

As far as our rules go, nothing really changes: we’re just clarifying that we don’t have space for belittling language and condescension, while more deliberately setting people’s expectations surrounding what to expect when problems are flagged. By resolving some ambiguity, we’re able to apply the rules that we’ve had for quite some time more consistently, resulting in fewer instances where it seems like we didn’t have any rules at all. That’s the gist of it, but if you’ll indulge us, we’d like to take a deeper look into how we got here.

Social contracts are an essential cornerstone of any collaborative project. A group’s shared expectations of how its members should treat one another not only helps their project stay on course, but also help outsiders decide if the group seems like a safe place for them to contribute. Since its inception in mid-2008, Stack Overflow and our subsequent network of Stack Exchange sites managed to flourish under a single guiding principle that everyone was expected to follow:

.. Be nice.

Stack Overflow began with a community of folks that were avid readers and pundits of Joel On Software and Coding Horror. As the initial community had some experience interacting with one another, “Be nice” was sufficient as a beacon to pull people back from over-enthusiastically critiquing other user’s contributions. We knew what ‘nice’ meant; that caused us not to notice how ambiguous our policy was as our community ballooned from thousands to millions of people in a very short amount of time.

Gruenert and Whitaker made a very astute assertion when they said that “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.” People look at the best and the worst that a new community might offer in exchange for a contribution, and our worst began to look increasingly troublesome over time.

We looked at examples of things that people were reporting as making them feel unwelcome and it seemed like a bit of a paradox: phrases like “Well, that’s clearly not nice, why wasn’t that flagged and removed?” dominated conversations that we were having about it. The reality became pretty clear: even our expanded ‘Be nice’ policy simply was not specific enough to meet the needs of a much larger dynamic that our sites had grown to be.

What became clear is that we needed to be way more specific about what we meant when we were asking people to be nice, how we hoped folks would react when they encountered behavior that wasn’t great, and some examples that would allow people to better embrace the intent of what the document was hoping to accomplish.

.. Be nice, here’s how, here’s why, and here’s what to do if someone isn’t.

Really, please, take a moment to read the new Code of Conduct now. It’s not long, it’s not wordy-and-legalese-y and in our long held tradition, we feel that it does a good job of assuming that the vast majority of folks that use our sites always have the best intentions at heart.

But we’re not done, not by a long shot. Our research indicates that the most problematic places on our sites tend to be free-form comments, so we’re working diligently on coming up with a way that lets users express feedback through the system; this not only ensures that users see compassionate, actionable guidance, but also helps remove the perception that there are people taking pleasure in picking at their work.

We’re also working on new features to help new users ask questions that are much more in line with what our active community needs in order to provide fast and accurate answers. With Stack Overflow soon turning 10, a UX audit and overhaul to help ensure users discover the right information and tools at the right time is long overdue. Our efforts in this department are perennial; there will always be room for improvements.

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.

Finally, we’d like to thank everyone that patiently worked with us in order to come up with a code of conduct that we think will make folks feel safe about contributing, but not so formal that it feels like oppressive, humid air. If it were not for our most engaged users working in tandem with many people that we only started reaching once they heard that we were working on this, we wouldn’t have anything close to what we accomplished together. We’re sincerely lucky to have all of you.

And, be nice to one another— all of you deserve nothing less than that.

Author

Tim Post
Director Of Community Strategy
Director of Community Strategy, Stack Overflow.

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Comments

  1. I think this is awesome, I’m really excited to see the community change.

    This will directly address my 5yo question https://meta.stackexchange.com/q/212126/147423

    Awesome! Thank you so much for this! 🙂

  2. James G. Haberly says:

    It is nice to see an organization taking responsibility for the material on its pages and the behavior of its users.

    1. robert harvey says:

      While it’s in Stack Overflow’s best interest to encourage a friendly and respectful community, they don’t have any responsibility for how their members behave. That is the community’s responsibility to police, not Stack Overflow.

  3. What would be really nice would be to see good content… now a days there are lots of poorly written questions and that’s almost all you see.

    I remember back in the day when StackOverflow was much younger, that there’d be a ton of new questions (typically with 10+ upvotes) which would bubble up and provide for interesting reads. Often I could learn from these questions myself as-well as answer. But it feels like that’s been lost 🙁

    1. Rui Ribeiro says:

      There are still good questions. The problem is that they are drown in the middle of too much noise.

      If SO wants to encourage and open the floodgates of poor questions, ultimately itś their own choice.

      However, if they also want to keep the oldest/and or professional users, at least provide us tools. For instance, at least in the search motor, allowing us to ignore all the questions/answer bellow 200-500 points.

  4. This is great and much needed! I am new to coding and I have asked questions and gotten very rude replies, standoffish personalities, and just bad attitudes. I have explained I am new and I gave up on Stackoverflow and went to other platforms for help. I hope this Code Of Conduct helps change the attitudes of experienced coders who forget they were once new to all of it also. I had thought the coding community was a friendly community and my first time at Stackoverflow was horrible. The smart alec answers and attitudes need to go. Maybe I will come back, give you another chance, one of these days when I am looking for help.

    1. robert harvey says:

      The members at Stack Overflow are not here just to throw insults at people. That would be a waste of everyone’s time. If your questions are not being well-received, consider the possibility that you need to change the way you ask questions.

  5. This is long needed.

  6. Thank you! Now if only other people outside Stack Overflow could see those examples…

  7. Tiago Mussi says:

    Awesome

  8. Brian Edwards says:

    I hope this works out! I’ve only posted in the past year and posting and answering questions on here has almost always been such a bad experience that I don’t want to be here unless I have no other option. Probably wont again until I hear about things improving.

    1. Robert Harvey says:

      Post a message on meta and get feedback about the questions you’re asking. You’re probably doing something wrong if all your questions get received negatively.

  9. For those of you who think that this is a breakthrough of some kind, or that Stack Exchange has some moral imperative to police the behavior of its users …

    It isn’t, and they don’t.

    The real breakthrough here is that SE is willing to listen to its own community, to be specific about their concerns (and not just “oh, bad things are happening”), to incorporate the feedback they receive, to find ways to better educate their users, and to articulate reasonable principles and expectations about the kind of community we hopefully all want to participate in (i.e. a civil one).

    And then, having gone through the exhaustive work of that process (not once, but twice), to write a sensible, well thought-out policy that most everyone can agree to, and put their full weight and endorsement behind it.

    Just don’t expect the new Code of Conduct to be a magic bullet. It won’t prevent bad actors or trolls. It won’t prevent disputes. It won’t prevent your feelings from occasionally being hurt. And if you’re expecting shamrocks, rainbows and unicorns, it is going to disappoint you.

    The veterans in this community still won’t coddle you or hold your hand. You don’t want that anyway. What you do want (and should expect) is to be treated with enough respect and dignity from the community to know that you will get the truth from them, but in a way that is not belittling, condescending or demeaning.

    That’s what being a civil community is all about.

  10. Wendall Hanson says:

    The disparaging way in which I have seen MANY questions handled has kept me from both asking and answering. Thanks for the change!

  11. MurrayFriedman says:

    Isn’t this what upvoting and downvoting is for? Did anybody ask for a “UX overhaul”? This is like wanting open borders and a welfare state at the same time. Broadening appeal will dilute content, like what happens at every other company that grows too big.

  12. Jeff Learman says:

    This is excellent. I’m tired of arrogant comments and unexplained down-votes, and hopefully this will help. Also, I appreciate this reminder to myself not to be snarky.

    Would it be too snarky to post a link to the CoC in response to a nasty comment?

  13. I think that the rules are well displayed and presented. Keep the peace and make the site more of a building and learning from one another, type of experience.

  14. “Why is Stack Overflow so negative of late?” asked a user in 2014. The question resonated with the community; within two weeks, the post had the most votes ever on Meta. People discussed and debated ideas how to make the site more welcoming. Then, abruptly, moderators closed the post. A Stack Overflow employee locked it, leaving no option to appeal.

    I welcome the new code of conduct.

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