We – which is to say, you, the Stack Exchange community – had another great year in 2014.
We cracked Quantcast’s top 50 networks in the US. We did this without posting celebrity gossip, top 10 lists, or cat pictures. We did it by creating artifacts: useful, canonical bits of information, edited, refined, and curated by our community.
By donating your knowledge to the largest community of developers in the world, you’ve been able to create a slice of the Internet that is indeed a better place. Amidst the noise, clutter, and chaos of the web, you’ve built one of the largest, most trusted knowledge repositories ever created.
How many times did people looking for help find your solutions last year? If you were to take the number of visitors to Stack Exchange sites in 2014, it would be larger than the populations of the United States, Russia and Brazil combined.
(Accommodating this many visitors would not be possible without our remarkably lean infrastructure, which served 6.4 billion pageviews last year alone.)
By the Numbers
Let’s focus on how much you did in 2014 to share your knowledge:
- 3.1 million new questions asked
- 4.5 million answers submitted
- 2.7 million edits, which made those posts even more helpful
- 17 million comments
- 3.6 million reviews
- 21 million upvotes; 3.2 million downvotes; 1.8 million accepted answers
- In 2014, we launched 20 new beta sites that you proposed through Area 51, bringing us to a total of 133 communities spanning topics as diverse as Economics, Startups, and Buddhism.
- 5 communities graduated from beta and were fully launched with snazzy new designs: Personal Finance and Money, Graphic Design, Academia, The Workplace, and Salesforce.
- We released native mobile apps for iPhone, Android, and iPad, (with an Android Tablet version in the works). Just a year in, hundreds of thousands of you have installed them, and you’ve posted more than 15K posts from
the bathroommobile apps.
- We launched Portuguese and Japanese Stack Overflows, our first non-English SOs. Portuguese is now officially our second fastest-growing community ever after hitting 10,000 questions in only 9 months.
- Stack Overflow Careers added 3,700 new company pages and 29,000 job listings. Finding a better job should be as easy for developers as finding answers on Stack Overflow.
Numbers are fine, but answers are better. Let’s look at some of your top posts from 2014.
- Most viewed post:
- What is the optimal algorithm for the game, 2048? (Stack Overflow, 679k views)
- Honorable mention: Visually stunning math concepts which are easy to explain? (Mathematics, 304k views)
- Most upvoted answer:
- Why is printing “B” dramatically slower than printing “#”? (Stack Overflow, 2109 votes)
- Honorable mention: Why does Windows think that my wireless keyboard is a toaster? (Super User, 1293 votes)
- Most anonymous votes:
- Produce the number 2014 without any numbers in your source code (Code Golf, 997 anonymous upvotes on the linked answer)
- We worked on a lot of open source projects this year, not least bosun, a sophisticated monitoring system.
- Everything we’ve achieved is thanks to the generosity of our users, so we’re proud to give back. We donated over $60,000 to some of our favorite projects on behalf of our invaluable moderators.
- We grew to 205 employees here at Stack Exchange (the company), more than 20% of whom work remotely. We now have people in 11 countries with physical offices in New York, London, and Denver. If you want to join us in serving the world’s programmers while building a better, smarter Internet, we’re hiring.
You blew us away last year. Thank you. We can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for 2015.
It’s time once again to cast your vote for the next Stack Overflow moderators. The primaries have just ended, and the top ten candidates can be found here: http://stackoverflow.com/election.
Why more moderators?
We’re running the election now (rather than a year from the last election in June) because veteran moderator Tim Post is stepping down in order to work with us as a Community Manager! While we’re extremely lucky to have his hard-working brilliance brought to bear on the problems we face managing all these sites, his transition does create an immediate need for a replacement on the SO mod team.
But of course, we’d be running an election soon anyway; as amazing as the current Stack Overflow moderators are, the workload continues to grow:
What moderators do
Jeff laid out the basic philosophy in A Theory of Moderation:
Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt — if you don’t have human exception handling in place.
As the previous graph indicates, flags – the primary embodiment of those exceptions – are a fairly frequent occurrence on Stack Overflow, purely because of its size. That said, a lot of flags aren’t identifying things that are particularly exceptional: in particular, posts that need to be closed (duplicates, off-topic questions, etc) or are of extremely poor quality aren’t all that uncommon on a site that gets over 7000 new questions and 11K answers each day. While moderators are well-equipped to handle these quickly, they don’t actually require moderators when a sufficient number of experienced users are willing and able to help.
The effects of improved community moderation tools
I mentioned last year that we were working on tools that would help to distribute the load more evenly between the elected moderators and the community as a whole. Well, eight months after their introduction, I’m happy to report that the revamped Review system is doing exactly that:
As Jeff wrote:
We designed the Stack Exchange network engine to be mostly self-regulating, in that we amortize the overall moderation cost of the system across thousands of teeny-tiny slices of effort contributed by regular, everyday users.
That’s not empty rhetoric – on a site the size of Stack Overflow, it’s absolutely essential. Geoff Dalgas came up with the design for the new review system based on his observations of wikiHow’s Community Dashboard: individual tasks, each focused on a specific need with specific actions to be taken and specific guidance provided for new users. The philosophy: don’t just give people stuff to do – help them learn how to do it.
Geoff, Emmett and Kevin have done some amazing work in making these new tools as fast and effective as possible; while there have been some growing pains and a few unexpected challenges, it’s great to see folks jumping in to help so enthusiastically. In the past 30 days, we’ve seen:
- 9384 suspected low-quality posts cleared, 1608 deleted, 319 edited.
- 30339 suggested edits approved, 15497 rejected, 4949 improved
- 17434 posts that’d been voted or flagged for closure closed, 3308 left open, 376 edited
- 571 posts reopened, 2203 left closed, 56 edited
(a detailed breakdown of actions to first posts and late answers can be found here.)
That’s a lot of work being done by a lot of people… Heady stuff. To be sure, that still leaves a huge amount of work for elected moderators, but I think it demonstrates the ability of the whole community to step up and assist when the opportunity is provided, that thousands of you are still willing and able to work together to created and maintain the site that you want to be a part of.
Hard to believe it’s been only six months since the last moderator election on Stack Overflow…
Remember A Theory of Moderation? It talks about how moderators are the “human exception handlers” on Stack Overflow, elected to deal with those rare situations the normal community moderation can’t handle. It also notes:
The most common moderator task is to follow up on flagged posts. Every post contains a small flag link, which anyone with 15 reputation can use.
Over 200K users with at least 15 reputation have accessed Stack Overflow in the past three months. That’s a lot of folks able to raise a red flag – and a lot of them do.
With 12 moderators on Stack Overflow, handling the more than 1,300 flags each day has become an increasingly heavy load to bear – so we’re looking for a few good men or women willing to step up and help. If you’re an experienced, community-minded member of Stack Overflow, willing to devote a bit of time each day to assisting your comrades, visit http://stackoverflow.com/election and nominate yourself.
Of course, needing more moderators is a good problem to have - it means Stack Overflow is thriving, its community able to recognize when a something on the site needs attention. That said, there’s something a bit wrong with this many flags going to the exception handlers, when many of them can and should be handled by other trusted members of the community. Last fall we started experimenting with ways of presenting some flags – those most likely to require actions available to ordinary users – to the 10K users first, and forward them only to moderators when unresolved in a reasonable period of time. We’ll be expanding this in the next month to put flagging for action (close, delete, re-open, etc.) and voting for action in the same league when it comes to requiring moderator intervention. Stay tuned…
The trilogy elections are now complete. Welcome our new trilogy moderators for 2011!
I hereby declare the new election process, at least as judged by the quality of the final candidates and the eventual winners, a resounding success!
Thank you for so generously contributing your time to keep your community safe, sane, and organized!
First, a quick update on the Stack Exchange moderator election schedule.
Ending today, so get those votes in!
Coming soon, in this order, at 3 per week:
- webmasters.stackexchange.com/election (Feb 7)
- cooking.stackexchange.com/election (Feb 7)
- photo.stackexchange.com/election (Feb 7)
- stats.stackexchange.com/election (Feb 14)
- tex.stackexchange.com/election (Feb 14)
- english.stackexchange.com/election (Feb 14)
- unix.stackexchange.com/election (Feb 21)
- apple.stackexchange.com/election (Feb 21)
(as always check out Yi Jiang’s awesome Stack Exchange Moderator Candidate Statistics page for insanely detailed election stats on any of the above.)
As you can see, we have a lot of community moderators! That’s why we’ve been working so hard lately on improving our moderator tooling, to make sure our new class of incoming moderators have as pleasant, polished, and smooth an experience as possible.
One thing we haven’t helped much with, historically, is when serious behavior problems occur. We encourage direct one-on-one communication to resolve serious behavior issues before they become irreconcilable. Unfortunately, the only way for a community moderator to do this was to email the user from his or her personal email account. Ew, right? Far from an ideal solution, but it was the only one we had… until today!
To make these sensitive moderation scenarios easier, we just rolled out on-site moderator messaging.
This accomplishes several things:
- All moderator to user messaging is done on-site; no email is required, and it’s a private communication between the user and the moderators.
- A duplicate courtesy notification email can optionally be sent to the user’s email account. This email comes from
email@example.com(or the trilogy domain equivalent) so no personal emails are ever revealed.
- We provide a set of prefab moderator template emails which cover most of the common-ish moderator direct contact scenarios we have experienced. This provides ambient guidance on a few situations you might expect to encounter at some point. It also reduces the “don’t make me think” of composing these difficult messages, and helps guide both parties into a (hopefully) constructive and positive interaction.
The vast, overwhelming majority of users are perfectly well behaved, so it’s rare to even need direct contact. But by the time we have to contact a user directly … it’s either something very, very good … or something very, very bad. When it happens, we try our best to keep the interaction constructive. It’s not about the specific user, it’s about the specific behavior. Addressing the behavior is our only goal.
We have some other exciting changes coming for moderators that are complementary to the improved moderator flagging for users — so stay tuned.
Good luck to all our moderator nominees. We’re rooting for you, and we will keep improving the moderator experience as we go to make it as painless and easy as possible.