StackOverflow, Elitism, and Community

Posted on April 27, 2018 by Richard Goulter
Tags: StackOverflow’s discussion that it ought to do more to be more welcoming.

Some of the points highlighted:

It seems that (roughly) StackOverflow has three kinds of users: - Those who ask questions - Those who answer, and moderate - Those who browse the site (from search-engine results page) but don’t ask/answer questions.

My experience personally was joining the site + being ‘reputation blocked’ from helping where I wanted to.
Well, whatever.

Part of the discussion is about the purpose/role of StackOverflow as a site. How its mechanics work (as opposed to, say, mechanics of Reddit). Whether it wants to be a quick/dirty my-question-my-answer or the-question-the-answer site.

Part of the discussion is about how much of an effort askers need to make to ask a question.
And how much of an effort answerers need to make to be considerate.
– Though I think this involves pointing out that people interact in different ways like how Alice Maz did with “Splain it to me”.

I have the concern that much of the “but women are hurting” comments come from people who don’t see that the established norms can be legitimate.
e.g. Meredith Patterson’s excellent “When Nerds Collide” discusses this. (Patterson’s concerns discussed elsewhere include that these feminists are unconcerned about excluding people they dislike; e.g. autists).

Simon Penner’s “Social Gentrification” is a good discussion about community interactions like this, too. (Progs are “social gentrifiers”, who invade a place a predominantly “poor” place, and make it nicer, but in doing so exclude those who inhabited the community already).

But that the “StackOverflow isn’t welcoming to women” is fighting words whereas “StackOverflow isn’t welcoming” isn’t:
This is so closely politics and culture wars that it’s disingenuous to discuss without pointing that out.

Most of the interactions of the culture war are driven by fear, not love. And what people value is the notion of relief, and safety.
StackOverflow’s remarks are clearly in reply to support women and people of colour who fear they aren’t welcome.
– As Patterson points out, some nerds get antsy about this since they grew up at the bottom of the social hierarchy (i.e. excluded); then found a place which they belonged. Tech happened to get popular, and these people are now being told they deserve to be on the bottom of the hierarchy, when they’d prefer that no hierarchy were there at all.

I think it’s useful to highlight that the interactions are political because it shows why those involved express & feel things differently:
- e.g. The “as a straight-white man I need to be doing better” is certainly coming from someone who identifies as progressive.
(i.e. other people who value ‘progressive’ as part of their identity are likely to speak the same way; whereas in my experience “white men” don’t). - The claim “StackOverflow isn’t welcoming to women” is parsed as “sexism”.
- Non-progressives consider “sexism” as “discrimination against a women, because she’s a women”. This fails to pattern-match against interactions on StackOverflow since anonymous accounts aren’t distinguishable by gender traits.
Interactions are judged at the level of the individual. - Whereas a progressive considers “sexism” as: the structures in place or the way that women feel. So if most of StackOverflow’s users are men, then that’s evidence of sexism. If women don’t feel welcome, the culture is sexist.
Interactions are judged at the level of the group.

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