community January 28, 2021

The Loop: Our Community & Public Platform strategy & roadmap for Q1 2021

We've got big things planned. And small things. So much stuff. Check it out!

We have two teams at Stack Overflow that are focused on the public Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange Network experience—the Public Platform team and the Community team.  The Public Platform team is the product development team that is focused on building features and improvements to the platform for our communities. This team is made up of product management, design, research, and developers. The Community team is focused on the growth and health of this large and vibrant community, directly supporting our moderators, curators, and general user base. This team is made up of Community Managers with various focus areas and expertise, such as operations, trust and safety, and curator support.

As two teams, we work together to support the Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange ecosystems. The Community team advises Public Platform on features and serves as a voice for our users as they think of how to most effectively build out tools and improve systems that sustain our community. Public Platform, in turn, works with the Community team to effectively communicate new features and ensure the users that we are serving are aware of anything new that is coming their way. 

When we started 2021 planning in Q4 of last year, as an organization, we took both a top-down and bottom-up approach.  Our senior leadership set strategic priorities for the organization and the various teams developed their strategy and roadmaps to support these objectives. The objective for our Community and Public Platform teams is to focus on community health and growth by investing in our community and platform to increase trust and deliver more value to our users. The key result we want to see in 2021 is improving overall community and content health. 

Public Platform: Strategy

Given the objective and key result above, we’ve been thinking a lot about how we can improve the quality of existing content and how we can ensure that newly created content meets the bar of quality we want to see. Additionally, we want to create a platform where all users find value day after day and that invites the next generation of programmers and technologists to connect with the broader community to get the help they need with their programming challenges. To achieve this, we’re framing our work in 2021 around these core areas:

1. Reinvesting in Q&A

It’s been years since we’ve invested deeply in the major pain points that Q&A faces. We’ve made some strides in different areas, but many of our biggest pain points have been around for years. If we want Stack Overflow to be both a place where users get their questions answered and questions and answers serve as a highly reliable body of knowledge for future users, we need to address these known issues head-on. Things like outdated/obsolete answers or improving the likelihood a question remains open and gets answered are examples of long-standing issues that we want to focus on. 

2. Building a place for learners

Areas where we fall short within the product experience like lack of education and guidance about core features, site mechanics, or community expectations create a perception that Stack Overflow is too hard to use and not inclusive of the broader developer community. We want to explore foundational gaps or factors within the product or processes that inhibit or discourage users from engaging and set users up for success. 

3. Improving tooling and automation for growth

Our moderators, curators, and community managers play such an important role in maintaining our sites. We want to provide them with better tools and automation so they can spend more time focusing on the health and growth of their communities and less on manual and cumbersome tasks.

Public Platform: Roadmap

Below are the major initiatives we’ll be focusing on in Q1.

Product
Pillars
January February March
Content Management • Review Queues: UI/UX update soft launch • Review Queues: UI/UX update full launch
• Review Queues: Architecture updates
• Review Queues: Onboarding
Outdated Answers Discovery→
Inclusion New User Onboarding Discovery →
Grow & Scale • Stacks Editor: Alpha Test • Automating Site Elections

Review Queues

We’ve made incremental improvements over the last couple of quarters to Review Queues, primarily around reviewer suspensions. This quarter we are focusing on overhauling the UI and UX, as well as providing new reviewers with education and onboarding.  

Automating site elections

Facilitating moderator site elections is one of the many important tasks our Community Management team is responsible for. However, running and managing elections is a very manual and time-intensive process. This project got delayed a couple quarters back. This quarter we’re rolling out improvements over the course of the quarter that automate this process for Community Managers and makes the election experience more streamlined for users as well.

Stacks editor alpha test

Stacks, our design system, released a new editor that supports rich text. We’re running an alpha test on our meta sites to get feedback from the community on what is needed to bring the new editor to the network.

New user onboarding

New users struggle to get the help they need or understand site governance and mechanics. Critical first experiences such as asking and answering are intimidating, and most users are unaware of quality standards or are met with system barriers that are confusing to them. This project aims to educate new users about the platform and guide them through these first critical experiences and set them up for success.

Addressing Outdated Answers

As the network ages, so does the content on our site. Early answers to old questions may still hold value, but require updates to accommodate changes in technology. Some may be entirely obsolete. This project focuses on identifying, surfacing, and encouraging updates to outdated content.

Community: Strategy

Product
Pillars
January February March
Community at our Center • Stack Gives Back • Swag Kickoff
Curator Team →
Community Operations Team →
Community Builders • Community Dashboard
Inclusion Trust & Safety Team→

Our roadmap looks a little different this quarter. We’re taking on much less in order to focus on some team changes that we feel will prepare us to better support the community in the future. 

One piece of feedback I’ve observed a bunch over the past year, that I’ve seen on Meta, in chat, and on our moderator’s Stack Overflow for Teams instance is that people are thoughtful about the times they need to “bug” a Community Manager (CM)  with a request. It’s a testament to just how much work this team has put in, to see how much people appreciate their partnership and trust their judgement, but are also aware of the load they are sharing among a small team. 

This is something that we kept in mind last year as we worked together to identify all the things that end up on a CM’s plate, list them, and sort them into categories. The reason we did this was because we wanted to help the team find focus. Moving from reactive work (like support tickets, moderator escalations, and elections) to proactive work (like policy changes, supporting product initiatives, and larger projects) created an environment with expensive context switching. 

So, this quarter, as we make our next few hires, we’re working on breaking up the work into three sub teams. It will take us time to get to the place where people no longer feel like they are “bugging” us. We’ll be working to define new workflows, establish how existing projects are addressed, and make sure that we’re being thoughtful about what things should be approached by the whole team as well as things that need to be owned by the sub teams.  It also involves adding more team members, we’ll be  spending a lot of time on that as well (our first CM hire starts on Feb 1). This will be a gradual process over this quarter, and we anticipate it taking most of our time and possibly carrying over to Q2. The three sub teams are: 

Community Operations 

As  the engine that drives the team, this team will primarily focus on projects related to incoming requests from our community, including the identification and triaging of tickets and requests, improving workflows, handling moderator escalations, running elections, and working closely with the community to identify needs and incorporating them to our work. The goal of this team will be to help every member of our network of communities know that the company is here to support them and answer any questions they may have about their experience. Additionally, this team will work with the product team to identify tools that will enable better automation and improved workflows for Community Management. 

Trust and Safety Team

This is team is responsible for encouraging and maintaining an environment that enables unfamiliar or total strangers to treat each other respectfully and fairly, preventing abusive behaviors that occur within our ecosystem, reducing risk and protecting the intended experience across our public network. This team’s purview will include things like collaboration with different teams to improve platform safety and user-friendliness, creating and enforcing policies around Human Digital rights, topics surrounding safety and harassment, and the corrective actions associated with the policies mentioned above. The goal of this team is to advise both end users and our product team on best practices for the interactions that happen on our platform.  

Curator Support Team

This team will enable our network’s content curators and moderators by seeking ways to strengthen and improve the relationships between our curators and moderators through support, policy collaboration and process management. The team will communicate regularly with the moderators, the Moderator Council, and community members across the Metas, Teams instances, and chat rooms. They will be the central point of  communication between the company and curators. They will work to advise the product team on projects that our moderators and curators utilize. They will also help with site growth by harnessing the combined efforts of these groups to support the health of the communities. 

Community: Roadmap

Swag project

Finally, swag is back! The work towards the next step of getting addresses from the first batch of new moderators and high rep users has begun, and we anticipate shipping those out in March. 

Dashboard

We’re working on a Dashboard that brings together our many Jira and Trello boards and gives us a view of the work that is currently in front of the team. Additionally, we’d like to break things down so each sub-team can have a view on their current work-in-progress and upcoming projects. 

Stack Gives Back

Every year we donate $100 on behalf of each of our mods to a charity that they choose from ones we have identified. This year, we’ve added several that are focused on COVID relief. We’re currently getting the mods’ chosen charities and then will be making the donations once the form is closed.

As we’ve been thinking about the overall strategy with our teams, we’ve also been giving thought about The Loop series. We want The Loop to be meaningful for our readers so we’ve decided instead of adhering to a strict monthly cadence, we want to focus on the quality of content. This means we might post more or less often, depending on what we have to share. 

We are happy to receive and interact with your questions  and feedback in our feedback post on Meta Stack Exchange.

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Avatar for Jon Chan
Engineering Manager, Public Platform