Magento Stack Exchange, MageStackDay: Best Practices

In light of recent passionate discussions, and in anticipation of MageStackDay #5, I have been thinking a lot about Magento StackExchange (MSE) culture. I’d like to present my thoughts as a sort of historical waypoint as well as an introduction to (or clarification of) the culture & activities which underpin this wonderful resource.

tl;dr: For me the most important bits are at the end (“What should I do?”)

Magento SE Timeline

How is something like StackExchange created and sustained?

The answer begins with open source and its ethos of open sharing of experience, knowledge, and effort. (My counterpart at Akamai, Davey Shafik, has a great presentation involving this topic, particularly on what I call the compound interest of open source’s collective effort: The entire presentation is worth watching, but at the very least, watch the five minutes following the linked starting point.) Specifically for StackExchange, it all began with people in open source (and in general) doing what they do when they need help: asking questions. In the early days of the Internet, netizens asked questions in bulletin-board-style forums. Once the WWW came along, forum software was developed, and people asked questions in forums. Eventually, a couple of fairly sharp developers realized that general forum technology fit the domain of Q&A very well, and they created StackExchange, with the goal of providing a tool and a ruleset for content creation centered on authoritative questions and answers. (The genius of the StackExchange approach is that it allows for two dimensions of answering, by allowing for an answer to be marked as a solution by the inquirer, and also by allowing the community of users to vote on other answers which may indicate a better or more applicable solution.) From this grew the StackExchange network, the crown jewel of which is StackOverflow (SO).

How did Magento SE come to be?

The first Magento-related question on SO appeared September 2008, and from then on the body of questions and answers grew organically, reaching over 37,000 questions to date. Adoption of SO as the Q&A forum for Magento increased as more users abandoned v1 of the Magento forums, which had become overrun with spam. True to form, as more users moved to SO, more and better content appeared, creating a positive feedback loop via search engines. I myself jumped from being a moderator on our forums to being a contributing member of the SO community in July 2011, and over the next 1.5 years I spent a lot of time answering questions there. During this time, I began to notice an increase in “user” questions, that is, questions about how to use the Magento application. These questions were closed right away, which is appropriate given SO’s scope. However, I felt that these were valuable questions to ask & answer, and I further believed that there was value in having them exist alongside technical questions. A new forum home was indicated.

Therefore, in December of 2013 I proposed a Magento-dedicated SE site which would allow focused Magento technical and user questions. Initially I was warned by SE staff that they might close the proposal, ironically for the most of the reasons that I was proposing it. From the initial proposal (2012/12/27 01:22:44Z), the site went through the necessary steps to achieve public beta in just over one month, launching in late January 2013, and immediately becoming one of the highest-traffic sites in the SE network. SE decided to let it play out.

How did Magento SE evolve over time?

Over the next 1.5 years the content on Magento SE grew and grew. Many dedicated users engaged with the constant deluge of questions from users new and old, simultaneously providing and curating content, following a typical but quick trajectory for SE sites. Despite our efforts however, the site remained in public beta. We began to look at the core metrics for beta sites: questions per day, percent answered, number of users, question/answer ratio, and daily traffic. We were constantly deficient in two of these: percent answered and question/answer ratio. A concerted effort was needed to improve the site’s stats, and by extension improve the content itself. This is what inspired Anna Völkl and Sander Mangel to create #MageStackDay, an event dedicated to “cleaning up” content with the hope of graduating MSE from its beta state. The first MageStackDay was quite successful, so a followup event was planned & executed a few months later. These efforts helped the MSE site to graduate to a full-fledged SE network site, opening it up for elected moderators, custom design, and other features.

Why do we still need MageStackDay?

The purpose of MageStackDay remains as it always has: to benefit MSE and the broader Magento community through focused collaboration. That said, the collective effort is only beneficial when the actions are obey and honor the chief tenet of Stack Exchange when it comes to content, which is to help it be better rather than to obliterate it altogether. While MageStackDay uses SE metrics to both inform and track progress, it’s essential to realize that these metrics are an indication of site quality only. It is easy to obsess over metrics rather than over material.

What should I do?

So, when engaging in today’s MageStackDay activities, or when participating on MSE in general, consider the following guidelines by to which I hold myself:

  • Prefer existing content over creating new content. Suggest edits, propose duplicates, and avoid adding answers which offer no new information.
  • Upvote good content liberally, but do so with integrity.
  • Down vote conservatively & comment when you do. Downvotes should be reserved for egregiously wrong answers.
  • Comment with kindness and consideration of quality. Comments are the spice of life.
  • Be helpful & courteous to new users. MSE culture is high-context & different from most forums; people need an introduction!

When it comes to content and conduct on MSE, think of the main tenet of the Hippocratic Oath: primum non nocere, or, do no harm. Perhaps we shall call it the Stackocritic Oath.

Okay gang, we’re starting soon. Happy Stacking!

PS: Congrats to Marius for cracking 100k Internet points on Magento SE. Quite an accomplishment!

PSS: Magento SE now has more Magento-focused questions than StackOverflow: 39,000 vs 38,000!

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