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We have four principal categories of topics on Meta, with some overlap:

  • Bug: The site just doesn't work
  • Feature request: I want to have new shiny things
  • Support: How does this work?
  • Discussion: What do we, as a community, consider right and wrong, good and bad behavior, on and off topic, where do we see the need for change, etc.

This is about that last category of topics.


IvoFlipse ♦, shortly after a discussion on a few Meta topics regarding, among other things, changes to the FAQ:

My problem with Meta is that there's no way to end or resolve a discussion. Yes, we discuss things, but there's no poll/election process where we can declare victory. This has frustrated me to no end on Discuss.Area51, Fitness.SE and MSU. I do feel Meta works reasonably well on some sites, but only if there's a true critical mass of people agreeing and simply starting to be the chance they want to be


We can discuss things on Meta as much as we want, but it's almost impossible to change things, especially once it's not a clear cut +20/-0 score. Diamonds hesitate to act when there's not a clear majority, and that's a reasonable approach, because we just don't have a way to declare one argument's victory over another.


Any ideas on how we can handle this in the future, so that we actually get real results to the discussions on Meta? Or do we simply accept the current situation where there just isn't a consensus, are no real results to a majority of discussions? Where past discussions, regardless of the result, are lost in the archives, invisible to the eye of the newcomer, only to be linked to once someone violates what can be considered community consensus?


I'm not looking for a perfect solution that can be applied network-wide. If we wait until we get e.g. real poll support from the SE software, we'll wait probably forever. Is there something we can do, on a smaller scale, e.g. with just a little support by our local diamond moderators?

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    We need Meta Meta for discussions about Meta. – Daniel Beck Dec 30 '11 at 14:38
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    Bet this question ends up in the same limbo that the question talks about :\ – Sathyajith Bhat Dec 30 '11 at 17:48
  • @Sathya I was thinking the same thing when I tagged this discussion... – Daniel Beck Dec 30 '11 at 18:04
  • what specific things do you feel are not being acted on? This is a great question, well stated, but I think it would be even better with a few practical specific examples of stuff being discussed on meta but nothing ultimately being done. – Jeff Atwood Jan 3 '12 at 17:39
  • @JeffAtwood Many topics on this Meta don't create a lot of interest, neither positive nor negative. It's a rare topic that is really visible and has votes well in the double digits. We have tons of proposals, but not the required number of users to make the topic stand out. This one for example. This one was more or less left without a clear guideline to the actual question (independent of the example). – Daniel Beck Jan 6 '12 at 20:03
  • Without a way to declare a discussion over, even pretty clear results are not acted upon: This topic probably just waits for a diamond to ask a question and make it CW. After we got rid of the company tags (or so I thought) we now have the same problem again, and nothing's happening. – Daniel Beck Jan 6 '12 at 20:05
  • I also don't like the current state of software recommendation questions and answers. Some related topics: 1, 2, and especially 3. Say what you want, the current state is fucked up and there's no way to fix it, because it's a controversial topic. We can't even get current policy added to the FAQ to make the issue more visible... – Daniel Beck Jan 6 '12 at 20:10
  • The core issue of this question still hasn't been addressed almost two years after it was asked. – allquixotic Sep 12 '13 at 13:56
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I've brought this up in the Teachers' Lounge. Here's a summary of the chat:

How do Meta discussions regarding a site's policy get 'decided' upon? I mean, when do we declare: "this discussion is over and answer X won"?

  • Ideally, there's a clear winner by votes.

Right, so how long do I have to wait before I know we've waited long enough? And how many votes is enough? What do we do if the voting is a close call?

  • The community leaders should make the decision. These are typically the moderators, but not all community leaders have a diamond. The point of having a community leader taking the decision, is that the decision is made by understanding the community arguments and all that.

  • The longer things are in debate, the worse it is and generally the poorer the situation becomes. Setting a deadline to make a decision is a wise thing to set in order to avoid things going on forever.

  • Ideally a discussion lasts long enough for it to die down (i.e. don't make policy while it's still being actively discussed). Having a "okay, let's make a decision" discussion in chat with your active users might not be a bad idea (though it assumes you have an avid users that visit chat). Having your users talk about it should be a critical point. No talk means no discussion which means nothing is getting off the ground.

So it boils down to:

  • pick a deadline, after which a decision will be taken
  • if possible, plan a chat session at the end of the deadline to resolve any last discussions
  • appoint community leaders (if not already present) and have them make the final call.
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    Obviously, how to appoint community leaders or figure out who they are is a whole other problem in itself, but on most sites this is likely to be your diamond mods – Ivo Flipse Dec 30 '11 at 15:17
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    It really fails on The community leaders should make the decision. Quite often it takes at least one user to "poke", to beg someone to act on stuff that has clearly reached consensus. It should also be more transparent what moderators can do, and what only site developers can do. This should be more or less clear regarding moderation policy, but I didn't know that it was so hard to just change a sentence in the FAQ. – slhck Dec 30 '11 at 15:32
  • @slhck Basically "we" get to enforce it once the nay-sayers have had their chance to object. Besides, all actions are reversible, so if it causes an unexpected outcry or change of plan, we can always shift our course. Its not like deleting or closing questions is permanent – Ivo Flipse Dec 30 '11 at 15:38
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    Let's make a decision chats are a horrible idea due to the time zone diversity on the site. – Daniel Beck Dec 30 '11 at 22:05
  • +1: Make a deadline. That's like anything in life. – surfasb Jan 1 '12 at 11:36
  • I'd have to say that while these points are good methods for defining the scope and duration of a discussion it doesn't really help if there is no-one who is going to push for the follow-through on decisions that are actually made. Is there someone who is in a position to go to the powers that be and say "We have decided that this would benefit our community" and find out what, if any, actions can be taken on that decision? It's all good and well saying that it's up to the "community leaders", but who leads the leaders? – Mokubai Jan 2 '12 at 16:33
  • Does that mean we will get more diamond participation on Meta? Or are you just adhering to the "do as little as possible" rule from the Theory of Moderation? – Daniel Beck Jan 3 '12 at 15:24
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Judging discussion topic votes

One problem on Meta is that many users open a new topic with a specific request or point of view.

This leads to problems in how to interpret the votes for the topic, especially if nobody posts an answer that basically references the "question". IMO, many topics need to be discussed, but how do I voice my agreement with the discussion without agreeing with the OP's point of view? If I don't vote, the topic will not receive the up votes it deserves, if I do up vote, I will support a point of view I might not agree with.

One topic where I think this problem occurred is this one. The OP posted his opinion in both the question (+14/-1) and an answer (+6/-6), with disagreeing answers far outweighing the latter score. If he hadn't also posted it as an answer, what would be seen as the community decision?

Structuring a discussion topic

I think users who initiate discussions need to structure these topics as follows:

  • State the general topic or observed problem in the question
  • Post the proposed solution or point of view in an answer

This way, users are able to agree with the general topic, but can independently agree or disagree with what is said.

Users should be made aware of this issue, and be prompted to edit their questions accordingly, moving parts of it to an answer, if necessary.

  • You suggested that once and I thought it made sense. I like this idea. We should also encourage meta discussion questions that can actually be answered or have a simple and straightforward solution. If that's not possible, we'll end up doing nothing again. – slhck Jan 1 '12 at 18:51

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