State of the Stack: a new quarterly update on community and product

Teresa Dietrich leads Product, Community, and Engineering at Stack Overflow. She will be posting quarterly updates laying out key accomplishments and future goals.

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January 14, 2021 marked my one-year anniversary at Stack Overflow. When I stepped into this role leading Product, Community, and Engineering, I couldn’t have imagined how 2020 would go. There have been incredible challenges, but I’m so proud of the work our teams did to help developers and technologists everywhere, and I’m excited about our plans for 2021.

In just one year, I’ve learned so much about Stack Overflow, Stack Exchange, our Teams product, and our Talent and Advertising businesses. I want to express my thanks to my colleagues, our community, and our users. I’m so grateful for the honest and transparent feedback that gave context to our data, insights, and history.

In the quarterly blog post that follows, which is the first of an ongoing series, I’ll elaborate on what I’ve learned, what we’ve accomplished, and what we’re focused on in the future. I want to ensure we’re always keeping community at our center, and that means updating you all regularly with what we’re working on.

What I’ve learned in my first year

In the last year, I have learned two fundamental concepts that I believe are key to why Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange sites are successful but we don’t really talk about much (at least lately).

First, when I think about the reasons why a Q&A site became integral to developers, technologists, and other learners, I believe it’s because we empower the efficient building of context around code, applications, services, etc. This knowledge is sourced from our community’s expertise. In technology, documentation and error codes cannot cover all the use cases, dimensions, and complexities that we encounter every day and often requires huge effort from a handful of folks to keep up to date. I think this paradigm extends to our non-technical sites. So much of the information and advice in most technical articles is written for a broader audience. Q&A allows for more specific and nuanced content.

Additionally, the value of Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange Network for the vast majority of users is the reusability of existing Q&A content. The best case scenario is that I find a question that has been asked and answered well. There are a lot of discussions and debates around content quality, but I think we can all agree that perfect content doesn’t have much value if it sits on a shelf where no one uses it. A high-quality question is specific not just to increase the chances of a good answer, but also so that others can quickly determine if the question is applicable to their problem. Great answers are clear, accurate, relevant, and complete. Anyone who finds the answer should be able to leverage it, not just the original asker. The questions and answers that are created and refined on the platform become a common good, shared and ideally beneficial to anyone who visits the site.

These fundamental understandings are important to both helping us improve and evolve the Public Platform, but are also foundational as we grow and scale our Teams product. We have to understand which features, functionality, and norms are worth transfering from a huge, public, largely anonymous platform to a private platform shared with your colleagues where you are identifiable. For example, in Teams, we found little to no use of the public site’s downvote feature. User research informed us that colleagues are unwilling to downvote each other’s content but are willing to give private feedback. For our launch of Articles, we replaced the downvote with a “Feedback” capability that allows private feedback to express to colleagues when you feel the information is incomplete, inaccurate, or out of date.

Q4 2020 highlights and updates

Here are a few of the updates we made in the final months of 2020 across the Public Platform and Stack Overflow for Teams, all of which helped inform the insights above and how we’re approaching 2021:

Within the Public Platform and across the community:

Within Stack Overflow for Teams, our SaaS knowledge management and collaboration product:

  • We launched the new Stacks Editor because many of those users are unfamiliar with Markdown. This work is the foundation of the alpha test we are doing on the Public Platform.
  • We expanded and updated our Slack integration, which has great adoption across the Teams users.
  • We also invested a lot of time into improving and expanding our self-serve capabilities across signups, onboarding, and product support.
  • Just after the new year, we launched For You, a personalized feed highlighting actions to take and content that might be of interest to a user.

This work has only been possible thanks to a hardworking and dedicated team, and we’re continuing to add more people there. Last year, we kicked off recruitment to add folks across Product, Community, and Engineering (and across the rest of the company). We’re excited to be growing and adding new colleagues with diverse experiences, fresh perspectives, and the people power to drive our plans and deliver impact to our users.

We’re lucky to have an overwhelming response to our open roles and are hard at work on the hiring process. You have probably started to see some new Stack folks on the platform. Say hello if that’s the case!

When it comes to new faces on the Community Team, we’re also in the process of dividing the team into more specialized sub-teams as we grow. This will improve focus and reduce the context switching for our existing CMs. As we grow our team, bringing new community managers into a more focused team reduces their initial scope of learning and more quickly allows them to support and deliver impact to our Community. If you are interested in joining us, check out our Work Here page for more information and open roles.

Looking Ahead: 2021 and Beyond

In January, we published a deeper dive into our 2019 security incident, which got a lot of attention and was highly shared. In continuing our commitment to transparency and communication we shared our Q1 Community & Public Platform Roadmap as both a blog post and a meta post.

We continued our annual Stack Gives Back program where we donate towards a set of charities on behalf of our moderators based on their votes as a way to thank them for their contributions for the previous year. This year, we are going to continue to explore social impact initiatives in hopes of having an impact on developers and technologists everywhere, but also on making the world a better place.

And finally, a quick update on our annual Dev Survey. Last year, we opened the Dev Survey on February 5, 2020 and released the results on May 27, 2020. As you well know, an awful lot happened during that stretch and we learned our lesson around needing a faster turnaround between the two milestones. This year we plan to launch the 2021 Dev Survey in or around June and have results back to everyone within 1-2 months. We're focused on shortening the window from when the survey runs to when it's released given how rapidly the world is changing right now. Look out for more soon.

I hope you’re looking forward to our future initiatives as much as I am. I am grateful for our many users across all our products and the opportunity to provide value to you all. This is an exciting period of growth for Stack Overflow, and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our incredible community.

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