This was all news to me. But then, what do I know?



Short version:

Where is the quid pro quo?

I remember not so long ago when Zuckerberg acquired Whatsapp, and many were wondering..."What does he get out of this?"

Well as it turns out, it was profitable as a source of data. Data mining was very useful for analytics, especially when collated with FaceBook public pages and other not-so-well- known Zuckerberg acquitions... I'm not so sure about private information...

Think about the 'public' information you have posted on the Bio.SE page, and the access to your email and personal websites.
At the very least, I expect targeted advertisements based on our personal information. Tag data would also be very informative, as well as our voting history.

On the other hand, it could speed up searches...

The longer view...
Our new 'owner' is Prosus, which is a 'venture capitalist*': most journalists shiver when they find out their Publisher has been bought out by one of those.

What often happens to small hometown newspapers in these cases is that the column length of advertisements is increased, and the actual local news content reduced. What normally happens is that the paid editorial staff is downsized, as well as the news desk content. The object is no longer content, but a return on investment.

In a way, we are a minor hometown news publication: our community is defined differently, that's all.

*Venture Capitalists do not normally give away money, but there have been movements on the exchange and Prosus now has a huge cash surplus; the purchase of SE made only a dent in their recent expansion.

Consider this from Shog9 on meta:

More than anything, the site is now a Product. That's not a euphemism; someone bought it, it's a product, they bought it for a purpose and just as the man who buys a steak knife but needing a saw will see that 2x4 cut through even if it takes all night... The Product will serve its buyer's purpose. The site we saw spring into being 13 years ago, whose first and primary purpose was to facilitate communication between programmers... That's not what this is anymore. It might continue to serve that role - I sure hope so! - but that is officially, definitively not its defining reason for existence.

Who has the rights to these 'products'?

I think the important thing for us as users is the issue of authorship and rights. As I originally understood the vague licensing contract**, we as authors of posts retain our rights to the contents, and agree to share those with SE.

Can that be changed, and then we lose rights of re-publication? For example, there are some truly well-written posts by authors here that deserve to be published as an anthology... will they be denied that right?**

Do they still retain rights of editorship?

Imagine a book by Sven Yargs with just an anthology of their etymologies posts...or HotLicks and their wacky and wise comments could be compared to some Woody Allen books. Or indeed some of the exchanges here in comment between Dr. Lawler, BillJ, Edwin, and other linguists are often priceless.

Can the contributions we make of our time and love be monetized? What does that make us?

**I just saw this at Wikipedia in a recently updated entry...

On September 2, 2019, the terms of service (and the footer of every page served) changed to referencing the "Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike" (CC BY-SA) license's 4.0 version instead of its 3.0 version.[38] Users were puzzled as to how Stack Overflow acquired the rights for this relicensing of their past contributions,[39] with some users explicitly stating that they did not intend their contributions to be licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.[40][41] Users were concerned that, if the relicensing was found to be a breach of CC BY-SA 3.0, Stack Exchange would have made itself unable to distribute the content under any CC BY-SA license (and that the footer's license statement could be erroneous), and would have to rely on its "perpetual and irrevocable right and license to use, copy, cache, publish, display, distribute, modify, create derivative works and store" the content instead.[42] On September 27, an official Stack Exchange reply stated it had been an "important step", but declined to discuss with the community the legal basis for the relicensing.[43]

Also see this, which I think might be the most heavily down-voted post ever by Tim Post.

Many older users here are still wondering about the changes in the old contract. Nothing that is happening here is very re-assuring.

  • 5
    I wouldn't want to publish my posts as an anthology. But I might want to link to them in other publications, and to modify them for that purpose. I presume I have no guarantee that that will be permanently possible. On the other hand, one doesn't get that kind of guarantee with any cloud service. Which is why I distrust the cloud, and all its works, and all its pomps. – John Lawler 2 days ago
  • 1
    A lot of the questions you have can be answered with knowledge of the licensing that this site has always operated under. You keep the rights to your content (and can do anything you can think of with it), and just give everyone else the ability to use it too as long as it's properly attributed: Anyone can sell a book with your content without any additional permission (and this indeed happened on some sites a while ago, much to the chagrin of some). – Laurel 2 days ago
  • It is Stack Overflow that attracts the investors, because it is the one site that draws millions of questions and tens of thousands of visitors daily. SO is the sun and perhaps Mathematics its satellite while ELU AND ELL are mere asteroids in comparison. – Mari-Lou A yesterday

Ars Technica seems reassuring:

Stack Overflow co-founder Joel Spolsky blogged about the purchase, and Stack Overflow CEO Prasanth Chandrasekar wrote a more official announcement. Both blog posts characterize the acquisition as having little to no impact on the day-to-day operation of Stack Overflow.

"How you use our site and our products will not change in the coming weeks or months, just as our company’s goals and strategic priorities remain the same," Chandrasekar said.

Spolsky went into more detail, saying that Stack Overflow will "continue to operate independently, with the exact same team in place that has been operating it, according to the exact same plan and the exact same business practices. Don't expect to see major changes or awkward 'synergies'... the entire company is staying in place: we just have different owners now."

To which I will add just what you said: But then, what do I know?

  • One can't help noticing that, as a matter of pragmatics, 'will not change in the coming weeks or months' implicates 'I can't say anything about what may happen after a few months'. – jsw29 yesterday
  • I found exactly that phrase quite worrying... – fev yesterday

We don’t know. But there are two things to consider: the Stack Exchange philosophy, and the nature of VCs.

If we think of Stack Exchange as a public square where conversations are recorded for posterity, there is a sense in which we the contributors decide the direction of the content, regardless of the change in ownership.

Monica showed that there is a limit to the power of the corporate shell, at least in the short term. In the long term, though, if they can attract enough support, it is possible to fundamentally change things.

That brings us to the topic of the SE philosophy.

Stack Exchange distinguishes itself from online-hep and chat sites by seeking to be a publicly-curated repository. It affects the kinds of questions the community considers to be worth answering and worth keeping, which in turn affects the people who end up staying with the community. This Style of curating requires work from the public and support from the management.

With new ownership, there will be uncertainty whether the ideals of Jeff Atwood and other founders would still drive SE. There have already been some changes, especially with Jeff’s departure from SE, but having new owners makes the (new?) philosophical underpinnings more uncertain.

The other factor to consider is the nature of VCs.

Venture Capitalists have a duty to their investors, usually in the form of financial returns. They don’t necessarily have a deep understanding of the organisations they acquire, nor a desire to hold and manage the organisations for the long term. The word “exit” is part of the VC mindset from the start - if there is no profit to be eked out of from the parts, the whole, or the partnership synergies, there is no incentive to acquire.

The parts of SE, as others have noted, include an extensive mailing list. The whole could be considered a huge platform of eyeballs that have gotten used to not being on the alert for advertising. Partnership synergies include the Teams efforts already underway. And so on.

VCs can sometimes leave management in place while they get the hang of things, but the one thing VCs don’t do as a matter of course is leave things be. They actively change things to make them more profitable - that is how they work. I am not familiar with the new SE owners. The ‘good’ VCs will coach the management and provide support so that they can be more profitable. The ‘raiders’ probably quickly acquire a reputation.

If the new owners can expand the Teams line of business, it is possible that SE can continue to function as the ‘free’ arm, using the business model that some Linux vendors use - free product + free community support + paid staff support + paid consultancy. This model would leave SE somewhat as it is, with the existing community and (some? of its) management continuing to subscribe to its ideals.

So what will happen to SE and ELU? We don’t know. It’s up to the new owners, and time will tell.

The unasked question is what we should do. Those who are in the know and can make a (successful) case for disclosure should keep the community informed about how the larger SE enterprise is earning its keep. As for the public, we can put together a list of community principles that we want to retain. Beyond that, it’s another case of ‘wait and see’.

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