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Recently, the Stack Exchange team made the decision to exclude this site from the Hot Network questions on the right sidebar of questions across the network and on the stackexchange.com homepage.

Why was this decision made? Were question titles on this site too inappropriate? Can we please get further insight from the team as to what thoughts were in mind when the decision was made?

Was it a direct result of some external Internet post, or was it a culmination of prior incidents? Did the team go through and evaluate question titles before making the decision, or was it just a quick snap decision?

Note that this is a neutral question. I'm not asking that we be put back on that list, or making any opinions on whether or not we should be in that list. I just want to know why the SE team decided to exclude the site.

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    As I said in chat, we don't know (fully) yet. We're trying to get a hold on a CM and get more information. We'll let you know! – Tinkeringbell Oct 17 '18 at 9:58
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    Related conversation on Meta.SE: meta.stackexchange.com/q/316904/232439 – scohe001 Oct 17 '18 at 13:12
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    Just a guess, but the other title was probably more of an issue, and seeing the two side by side was likely sub-optimal. – apaul Oct 17 '18 at 14:42
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    @Tinkeringbell These discussions really should be on meta, rather than burried in chat. – apaul Oct 17 '18 at 14:53
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    @apaul, which is why I tried to keep the discussion in chat to a minimum too. If you catch up on the transcript, you're likely to see a few messages requesting people to just hold off on discussing it/posting on meta until we could get hold of a CM and have a proper response for all of you. ( I was personally more in favor of them making an announcement than having a question to reply to) – Tinkeringbell Oct 17 '18 at 14:59
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    Was the students flirting question what kicked all this off? But it's such a tame title! – curiousdannii Oct 18 '18 at 0:34
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    @curiousdannii No, it was only a partial cause. This was clear in chat, and I made no judgments about why it would be kicked off. – gparyani Oct 18 '18 at 0:37
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    As someone who isn't really a user of IPS, I have to say that I'm sad to see this happen. I usually hang out on math.stackexchange instead, but I always enjoyed seeing what the IPS people were up to. I always feel like my own interpersonal skills could do with a brush-up! – Theo Bendit Oct 19 '18 at 2:30
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    @TheoBendiy then NOW is the time to ask for our help :P You won't have the entire HNQ laughing about your problems ;) – Tinkeringbell Oct 19 '18 at 5:52
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    For real... I'm sad to see that two posts caused this much trouble... this is sad. IPS is a nice place, it's just got it's issues. The two posts I think this was about seemed pretty tame. – FreezePhoenix Oct 19 '18 at 12:46
  • Jeez, no wonder my HNQ has seems so mundane as of late. I thought IPS's beta failed to gain traction so I recently resorted to visiting IPS manually just to make sure it was still alive. I didn't even find this post until I dug through the links at workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/a/5755/17532 How sad... – MonkeyZeus Nov 27 '18 at 19:08
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this site has now been reinstated to Hot Network Questions. – gparyani May 20 at 21:45
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So, first off, I want to get a few things out of the way.

  1. Hi to all my lovely IPS friends!

  2. This removal from the HNQ is temporary. How temporary will depend on a few things. It will probably last at least until next year but I'm hoping to turn a negative into a positive and use this to really see what effect the HNQ has on this site. More on this in a bit.

Now.

Was the removal of this site from the HNQ in response to a Twitter complaint?

Yep.

Oh. Well, that seems... crummy.

Yep. Let me tell you about it.

The initial response to the tweet in an internal discussion wasn't actually "let's pull IPS out of the HNQ" it was "Maybe we should finally kill the HNQ or redesign it to make it better." I think that reworking the HNQ is something that many people want to see - myself included. Should a tweet be the final straw when it's been discussed so much over the years? No. Am I willing to be OK with that if it means something will change? Begrudgingly, yes... but that's a separate issue.

With over 170 sites, many people are surprised to hear the variety of topics that exist on the network. That's what happened in this case. Someone asked the inevitable question "what site is that?" which then followed what I find to be a pretty standard pattern:

  • surprise that a site like this exists on the network
  • questions of why such a site is hosted here
  • discussion of whether such a site should be here

It's easy to panic and focus on optics instead of tenable solutions, and while it looks really drastic, pulling IPS from the HNQ was a pretty moderate response. Yes, it was a quick decision - like pulling your hand away from a hot stove when it burns. It was the solution we chose - without consulting IPS - because it was effective and easy to implement since it would fix the perceived problem immediately and there was already a technical solution in place for doing it.

We could have done better, though

  1. We could have waited a bit before acting. The immediate response doesn't set a great example and looks outwardly like we didn't think things over. That said, 24-48 hours later, we still think it was the right call.
  2. We did a lousy job of communicating this change here on IPS, at least partially because of #1.

We are going to have some internal discussions to improve how we respond in situations like this in the future. We don't want Twitter - or Reddit or any other external site - to be where users go to get real change to happen on the network. We love our meta system - the child meta sites and Meta Stack Exchange - and we need those to be where people feel they can come to and get a response from us.

There has been historical discussion both on IPS Meta and in chat plus in various places around the network about getting IPS off of the HNQ list. Knowing how users felt about the site's presence in the HNQ made it easier to justify the action both at the time and now. This discussion gets to the heart of the problem, though:

We've ignored the problems of the HNQ for too long, through too many changes to the network and it's biting us in the butt.

What worked well for the HNQ when this was a collection of largely technology-based sites that focus on primarily objective content doesn't work as well as we dive into more, varied topics - some of which scare us because they seem so different and difficult to control.

The unfortunate truth is that what is perfectly reasonable for IPS and makes for a great question isn't going to necessarily be something that everyone finds to be workplace appropriate, which is a big consideration for the network as a huge percentage of users are using the network during working hours. It's become clear that we need to make a change and the response we're getting to the discussion of how to change it has been really great, particularly as IPS isn't the only source of HNQ drama.

Regardless of the question titles or whether people want to see them in the HNQ list, this site does a lot of good work and the efforts of the users here to reign in what could have been a hellscape has been and continues to be laudable - the fact that three very similar proposals failed before going public is a testament to the work put in here. We want this site to continue to improve and grow and do the work of making the world a better place by helping people improve their interpersonal skills, which is something everyone needs.


I want to break in here to apologize. While I did let the moderator team here know that IPS was off the HNQ when it happened, I didn't correlate it to Twitter and I didn't say anything publicly about it. That wasn't a conscious choice. I didn't think about it because I didn't really have much to say at the time that I felt would have been useful because I was generally confused and upset that a site I feel very close to was under fire.


So, let's turn this into an opportunity. Am I spinning this? Hard. So, so hard... but yes... and I'm doing it openly and, I hope, with some support from y'all.

From the earliest days of the site, we've known that the HNQ was a blessing and a curse:

Moratorium on Hot Network Questions until we have greater control over content

I wrote my answer there before I was a moderator here and almost a year before joining the Community Team. I still agree with the sentiment there considering where the site was in its life cycle. And, generally, I think that the choice to stick it out was good for the site. I think that the HNQ list forced us to address a lot of things that would have slipped through without notice, causing us to reach the pretty healthy place we're at now sooner than we would have otherwise.

That said, the problems of the HNQ still plague the site - and many of the more subjective-leaning sites.

Now that we're over a year in and have some data to compare to, I'm excited to turn this into an experiment to see what the site does when it doesn't have a constant influx from the HNQ eyeballs. I've already got plans for the Community Team to look at some post-mortem numbers in a month or two with the goal of seeing how this affects a few things:

  • Questions/day
  • Answers/question
  • Views
  • Votes
  • Traffic numbers
  • Question/answer quality (this will probably require more than just data and will be somewhat squishy)

My biggest hope is that seeing these numbers and how they change may help this site see what the HNQ impact has been and possibly help us decide what solutions to try in redesigning how the HNQ works for the entire network.

If y'all have other ideas for things to work on in this break from the HNQ, feel free! We'll do our best to support what you need so that we can all come out of this in a better place - and hopefully that place will include IPS being back out there on the new and improved HNQ (or whatever might replace it) - assuming y'all don't decide you much prefer the quiet of not being on the HNQ.

There's another rainbow to this timing - I'll be away for a while as I'm going to have a new baby in the next week or so, which means we can start looking at data when I get back in 6-8 weeks. I want to be here for this discussion because this site is still important to me, even if I'm not a moderator here any more.

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    The immediate response doesn't set a great example and looks outwardly like we didn't think things over. I think is a massive, almost impossibly massive understatement. I don't know if you guys can ever recover any of the massive amount of community trust you lost that day. Finding out that yes, indeed, a twitter complaint is a more powerful force of site governance then months of meta discussions by the most engaged users of the site just means that there's no point participating at all until whatever dynamic causes this is completly and provably wiped out. – Magisch Oct 19 '18 at 4:55
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    a proper way to start mending relations could be to start with reverting this unilateral feature change and to have an actual discussion here and see if the community actually wants this. – Magisch Oct 19 '18 at 6:18
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    Agreed on the suggestion to reinstate IPS to HNQ. Removing IPS and only IPS based on the outrage of a few Twitter users is incredibly unfair to this community and sends a very strong signal that SE considers the opinions and efforts of valuable contributors practically worthless. If y'all do care about this site, then please act like it? Otherwise, how about removing Worldbuilding, Puzzling, and Code Golf from the list too? See this tweet and the following: twitter.com/Reedbeta/status/1052417484614262784 RPG and Parenting too can be found in other tweets under the original. – El'endia Starman Oct 19 '18 at 7:44
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    "This removal from the HNQ is temporary. How temporary will depend on a few things. It will probably last at least until next year" -- considering HNQ is where IPS gets most of its traffic from, IPS will most likely be dead by then. – Pyritie Oct 19 '18 at 9:36
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    Jeeze. The original user's suggested fix is literally just "a chrome extension." And one of the users called out immediately changed their title. If that off-site interaction was enough to send the company into a behind-the-scenes frenzy resulting in a member site losing its primary source of visitors for a year, then...yeah, I'm pretty worried. – Kyle Strand Oct 19 '18 at 16:37
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    @KyleStrand I read "at least until next year" to mean "next calendar year," as in, at least 3 months from now. – scohe001 Oct 19 '18 at 16:40
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    @scohe001 a significant duration nonetheless – JAD Oct 19 '18 at 17:09
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    The only thought I have about this is that while it's good to step back and re-consider all of the elements involved in discussion about the HNQ, (while the first step was not done in the best way, I definitely agree) I feel like waiting for data to accumulate is putting Interpersonal Skills site in a "guinea pig" position, where we just wait and observe and hopefully it won't fade... I believe that's pretty harsh, and I want to see the site succeed but in a way that reflects all the other sites' methods (community participation, meta, mods, etc.) - not by one tweet. – ElizB Oct 19 '18 at 19:42
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    "like pulling your hand away from a hot stove when it burns" You guys didn't create the stove, & it doesn't rely on contact with your skin to survive. This seems more akin to taking away all of your toddler's food after a stranger walks by and sees you feeding your toddler one unhealthy snack and starts complaining to the general public about it. Meanwhile, your husband (e.g. SO users/mods)--with whom you made the toddler--has been begging you to start feeding it healthier food since its birth and you've always ignored him. That being said, I know you're a new employee; HNQ isn't your fault. – TylerH Oct 19 '18 at 20:58
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    @TylerH I know you probably didn't mean it, but "you're wrong and you're portraying things wrong, but you're still new here; it's not your fault" to me at least, seems extremely patronizing. I think your comment could've done a lot better without that last sentence. Catija may be new to the CM team, but she's a tried and true veteran 'round these parts. – scohe001 Oct 19 '18 at 21:08
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    @scohe001 The last bit is intended to point that the "you" in the majority of my post does not refer to Catija directly in case people gloss over or forget the comment begins with "you guys" and that I acknowledge she is giving us an official position of the company about something that has been problematic for years prior to her even joining the company, to help ward off concerns that I might be blaming her for other peoples' intransigence. I am not sure how you figure that my comment indicates her employee time (or any fault) is somehow related to her analogy being inaccurate. – TylerH Oct 19 '18 at 21:12
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    Could we provide an option for users to "Hide this question / Hide all questions from [SITE NAME]"? Beyond that, if there was just a "Collapse" toggle for HNQ, it seems like most of this "HNQ rage" could be easily addressed by a simple "if you don't like it, collapse it" kind of thing.... Why don't SE people leverage their own network to get ideas for solutions to these kinds of problems? Perhaps pose a question on UX.SE that can address these kinds of issues that people have? – maxathousand Oct 19 '18 at 22:03
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    It seems like the original tweet at twitter.com/Reedbeta/status/1052417484614262784 has been removed. So what where these offending hot network questions that lead to the exclusion of IPS? – user2483352 Oct 22 '18 at 8:54
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    So everyone is saying "it was because of something on twitter", and nobody has the quote of the thing on twitter nor the post that led to the problem. Lovely. – Yakk Oct 22 '18 at 18:06
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    @Yakk - It looks like it was captured in this answer. I was trying to figure out what it was all about, too. – Bobson Oct 23 '18 at 14:09
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The tweet has been deleted, but it was a screenshot of 3 questions.

First, How to approach a friend about his girlfriend asking to sleep with me?.
Secondly, How do I tell students at a school I volunteer at to stop flirting with me?.
And finally, Story about aliens nicknamed 'Eechees' who have created a network of tunnels on Mars

With a comment saying (paraphrased as I don’t know their copyright rules) “show people this screenshot to people who wonder why other people don’t find SO welcoming”

Finally found a screenshot. img

Personally when I saw that I was confused as to whether it was praising or condemning the site. And I still don’t know which question (or whether it was both) that was supposed to do that. None of the questions titles seem unwelcoming to me. Other than to those that are offended that alternative lifestyles exist, but you can’t avoid offending people that want to be offended.

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    Continuing to drive traffic to that Twitter thread is probably counter productive. – apaul Oct 23 '18 at 1:21
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    I've edited out the direct link - this was also originally in the question, but unfortunately we had some SE users jumping over to Twitter which .. was not productive or helpful. As you noted, the original tweet that had the screenshot has been removed so it's not particularly useful to have the link here now anyways. I'd also appreciate if we can avoid getting sucked into discussing the particulars of that twitter thread, and instead keep things productive and focused on how to make IPS look its best going forward :) – Em C Oct 23 '18 at 1:27
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    @apaul: more information is better than less. – jmoreno Oct 23 '18 at 1:48
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    @EmC: not going to get into an edit war, but while the original screenshot is gone, her words and AdamLear’s are still there. As is of course a bunch of people not letting things go. – jmoreno Oct 23 '18 at 1:54
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    Wasn't my intent to obscure information, most everyone has seen it by now, just trying to avoid feeding the concern troll with more attention. – apaul Oct 23 '18 at 1:58
  • @apaul: I was hoping that someone would be able to use it to identify the 3rd post. I can almost remember it. – jmoreno Oct 23 '18 at 2:00
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    @apaul if you don't want to feed the troll, you can just add a screenshot here. – BlackThorn Oct 23 '18 at 21:50
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    Yeah, I'm honestly baffled at what was supposedly so "unwelcoming" and "inappropriate" about that. This whole situation is ludicrous. – Mr. Bultitude Oct 24 '18 at 22:53
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    @Mr.Bultitude: and the response from adamlear was basically “woof, yeah totally inappropriate for SO, I’ll drop IPS from the HNQ”. I don’t think any of them are particularly NSFW, unwelcoming or otherwise inappropriate for SO. Now, reading any of them at work could be a problem, but IMO it’d be a pretty poor workplace that objected to the links and titles. Still have no idea why anyone would consider those questions “unwelcoming” for SO. – jmoreno Oct 24 '18 at 23:19
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    @Valorum you presume incorrectly. – Em C Oct 25 '18 at 18:28
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    This is the first place I've finally come across the 'offending' titles. I have rarely in my life been more confused why this was raised as an issue or why the kneejerk was so intense. – Bryan Krause Oct 25 '18 at 18:54
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    "The tweet has been deleted" - the most important part. – rus9384 Oct 27 '18 at 22:23
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    If you view these questions as an IPS user, they seem pretty tame. If you were searching for a solution to a programming problem, you might be surprised or even bothered to suddenly be running into questions about sex. – DaveG Dec 4 '18 at 19:43
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    @DaveG: I try to put myself into the mindset of someone that doesn’t know about SE, but when I do, I don’t care about the sidebar. I care about the ads, but that’s a different problem. The HNQ is clearly not related to my search, and the formatting of the page makes it likely I wouldn’t even read it. If I don’t know what all SE has, I’d be single-mindedly looking for an answer to my problem, and if something didn’t seem to be helping with that, I’d ignore it. Given the page design and the ads, I’d be ignoring the right hand column entirely as that is obviously not where I’ll find my answers. – jmoreno Dec 5 '18 at 1:36
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I'll respond to this individually, but in a broad sense, we've been fixing issues with the hot network questions list with duct tape and regular expressions for years now. I just kicked off a discussion on MSE about why that's not working at scale, and why we need to revisit what we hope to get out of the feature.

In short, IPS has some really good content. Titles, however, when taken out of context and put in the list ... aren't great for displaying on professional and academic sites. Things that talk about dating (especially a lack of fidelity), and other stuff .. just got to be problematic.

This is not a problem that is exclusive to IPS. On Gaming, we had some serious issues with trigger words in titles when games like Grand Theft Auto put out a new release. But, we could work around that with crude regex filters to keep most titles that might trigger past trauma or otherwise make people feel bad out.

With IPS, when we looked, there was just no way that ad-hoc fix was going to work, so we took the site out as a contributor to the list for the time being. This is something I fully support doing because we can't keep kicking the can down the road while our 'solutions' rapidly advance toward outright sucking.

Let's look at the progression:

  1. 4 years ago: "Hmm, some questions have titles we don't want in the list"
  2. Today: "Hmm, some sites have questions we don't want in the list"

... progressing from there is a race to the bottom, so we have to evaluate what we want to get out of it from the start. I strongly encourage everyone to join that discussion, and I regret that this happened so suddenly without communication immediately following, the timing was just really bad.

Nobody did anything wrong, we just have to look hard at the relevancy of certain features as we age, figure out what good they still do for us, and figure out how we might be able to keep the good stuff if it's worth re-engineering.

It's also worth mentioning that while we want the hot questions to encourage sites to consider pushing the limits of what they deem on-topic to stay relevant, maybe (due to how often IPS found its way in the list) it pushed a little too hard here, which is a design and oversight flaw on our part. We've gotta consider it as much as we need to own up to it, so there's that.

Anyway, please join in on the linked discussion, this affects all sites (just this one a bit inordinately so).

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    I read in the post regarding the criteria for HNQ that there is a site-specific factor for questions in HNQ, to prevent a single site from dominating the list. If IPS has been producing so many questions there that it's been dominating it, why not just reduce that factor? – gparyani Oct 17 '18 at 18:09
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    I'm just curious here. You're saying that that Twitter thread had nothing to do with the undertaken measures? – avazula Oct 17 '18 at 18:50
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    Are we going to get a comment on the state of community self governance? The actual issue here is near trivial to me here, but the implications this chain of events has for community self governance is devastating and really demotivating. I know nothing is going to fix the present mess, but... – Magisch Oct 17 '18 at 18:52
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    In that MSE thread, Monica described that HNQ optimises for controversy. I hadn't considered just how true that is before, and given that it's suddenly much less surprising to me that so many controvertial titles and questions show up in HNQ—it wound up engineered to find them! – doppelgreener Oct 17 '18 at 20:25
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    @gparyani that does nothing to prevent the "wrong posts" ending up in HNQ though, only that less of them do. – JAD Oct 17 '18 at 20:31
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    Can you explain what was meant by "entirely inappropriate for SO" in the tweet announcing this change? I'm having a hard time reconciling that statement with "nobody did anything wrong". We've discussed how to deal with NSFW content before. As far as I can tell, the offending titles aren't seen as a problem by actual users of the site, but if SE doesn't approve do we need to revisit the policy? Otherwise surely this could have been worked around by blocking some tags instead of the entire site? – Em C Oct 18 '18 at 11:47
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    @EmC For what it's worth, I think the actual question/answer content on IPS is generally respectful and well-curated. What I was going for was that I agreed that the question titles screenshotted in the quoted tweet weren't a good look for Stack Overflow. In hindsight, if I were to do this again, I'd do two things: 1. choose less absolute wording on Twitter; 2. wait before pushing the change through to allow for more upfront communication here. I apologize for doing neither of those things; I should've known better. – Adam Lear Oct 18 '18 at 19:12
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    @AdamLear so can we get a definitive write up of how the internal review of IPS went? obviously y'all think we have a problem we need to solve, so give us some guidance of what we need IPS to change about itself to solve that (or not, if that was misspoken.) When trying to move on, that'd be helpful. – Magisch Oct 19 '18 at 6:43
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    @Magisch from my own reading it seems that the stance is "the questions mentioned on Twitter aren't actually bad - we guess - but Twitter did make a stink, so let's purge IPS from HNQ anyways." – John Dvorak Oct 19 '18 at 7:32
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    @Magisch If we actually do one, sure, I don't see why not. I honestly didn't expect this to be this controversial of a change, and I don't think I can apologize enough for how it actually came across, but like I said above - I do think actual Q&A content here, beyond isolated titles, is overall good. – Adam Lear Oct 19 '18 at 18:40
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    @AdamLear Thank you for stepping up and responding directly. As mentioned in a lot of places, I think much of the frustration is about the process, not the end result. Concern trolls on Twitter shouldn't be driving policy more effectively than years of meta discussion/debate. I fear that caving to obtuse Twitter criticism may lead more folks to go that route in the future, and it may ultimately send the wrong message to both outside critics and the SE community. – apaul Oct 19 '18 at 19:52
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    @apaul I completely agree. Ironically, those past meta discussions are why I thought this wouldn't be that big a deal, but I understand how the whole thing ended up coming across very differently in practice. – Adam Lear Oct 19 '18 at 19:58
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    I don't get it... Y'all made a mistake by caving to the troll, so fix it by reversing this and let us make changes the right way. This is a slippery slope. – BlackThorn Oct 23 '18 at 21:09
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    That's a shame. I refrained from ranting in a separate post here because tbh I don't feel like a part of IPS community, and I don't know if you even want to be on HNQ, but this all stinks very much. There was no due process, and instead of declaring this whole shitstorm a mistrial, we're pronouncing a guilty verdict and putting it on probation. I hear all the "sorry"s and "we screwed up"s, and I believe there was no malicious attention from SE side, but nonetheless it was a mistake. Mistakes, however, aren't fixed by apologies, but rather by concrete, immediate actions. – Luke Oct 24 '18 at 14:36
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    @Luke for more on whether or not we want to be back on, see Does IPS want to be back on HNQ? – scohe001 Oct 24 '18 at 21:08

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