This is shaping up to be a bit more of a rant than I meant it, but this is a serious problem, and I'm growing increasingly frustrated. I feel this is something we need to explore.
A good community is an ongoing dialogue. Right now, our dialog is poisoning interactions and pushing people away. I think it's time for us to set aside discussions of question and answer quality, of sourcing and quoting, of what counts as a good question or a good answer, of what should and shouldn't be downvoted, of what "literature" means and what counts, and especially of how we avoid being "Literature 1.0", for a moment. For a long moment.
Why? Because we're bleeding out our orifices. People are leaving, and others who might nominally want to participate don't feel like they can. Our active user count has been on a steady, rhythmic decline since the day we left private beta, to an extent that's downright alarming. This is symptomatic of a problem that needs to be addressed. And honestly, I don't think much else matters until it does. If we don't have a community, all other discussion is moot.
I can't honestly recall the last positive interaction I've had on the site. Nearly everything I've done here has been frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and unrewarding, especially recently. The site feels impossible to appease. Where normally, on other sites, there's at least a minimal assumption of good faith, and an allowance for "I understand what you mean," here, everything is subject to incessant deep scrutiny.
It's like we've all decided to discard the idea of building a healthy, welcoming, happy community, and replaced it with a competition to out-literature each other. It's like we've started looking for reasons to be critical of posts, and of each other. And in that space, we've lost track of the primary and most critical foundation of a healthy community: ensuring each other walk away from each interaction feeling like it was a good one, and a worthwhile one.
I've seen people delete good questions because of harsh, nitpicking feedback. I've been tempted to delete high-voted answers of mine because I couldn't stop getting notifications about small details and choices of words that, really, people understood, even if they weren't as clear as they could have been.
I've seen people find themselves unable to ask questions because they can't figure out how to ask them in a way that lives up to the standards we've set. Even people who are skilled and competent at asking questions have this problem. I've had this problem.
I've seen hundreds of inexplicable and unexplained downvotes - I've easily received a couple dozen myself - and hundreds more that came with hostile and unwelcoming explanations. I've almost never seen positive, helpful, constructive feedback.
I've read thousands of our comments, and found almost no warm, friendly feedback. Little to no "welcome to the community, this is an interesting question" comments exist on this site. Instead, people make demands in comments, then ignore the post, never to touch it again, if someone bothers to make a good-faith attempt to meet them.
I realize I don't have many sources for these things. Unfortunately, I'm not willing to source most of my examples. I also realize these things happen on any site - but they happen here far, far more than I've seen elsewhere. In my experience, this is one of the most unapproachable sites I've seen on Stack Exchange.
So I've been bombarded with examples, lately. They've come out in dialogue, and I suspect they'll continue to come out the longer we talk about it.
And, truth be told, if I were a regular user of the site, and not a moderator, I would have left ages ago. My long hiatus was because, on some emotional level, I was seeing that this wasn't really a site I wanted to participate in. But it should be. I break bookshelves. I am the target audience. And as a moderator, that means it's time to get my hands dirty. And as a community, that means it's time to get our hands dirty.
I don't have a good answer here. I'm not sure what we should do. I know that it's happening - I see it happening, as it has been for a very long time. And besides, this needs to be discussed as a community.
So, here we go. Here are the questions I think we need to answer.
Questions for Pondering:
- When was the last strictly positive, encouraging experience you had on Literature?
- Has anyone given you feedback that has solely made you frustrated?
- How often does that happen?
- Have you gotten inexplicable or unexplained downvotes? Do you feel like you have the tools you need to correct their anonymous concerns?
- Have you gotten comments that lay out problems you don't feel like you have a way to meaningfully address?
- Do you like the people on the site? If so, is there someone you like based on your interactions with them here specifically? If not, why not?
- Do they still use the site?
- Is there anyone you'd like to see post more on the site? Why don't they?
- When you downvote a post, what, specifically, do you tend to disagree with about that post? How major is that issue? (Can you understand what the answer is getting at?)
Questions to Answer:
- If you've left the site, or are reluctant to post here, why? What holds you back?
- What can we do to make more interactions positive, friendly, and encouraging?
- What are the possible consequences of loosening up on our stringency and strictness?
- Feel free to answer with... anything. Really. Anything you feel is relevant to exploring our toxicity problem.
I jotted my thoughts down. Now I'm curious to hear yours.