Their software is a hideously complicated and over-engineered attempt to twist human relationships into math. It only works on StackOverflow because:
a) The tech community was desperate for an alternative to hidebound mailing lists on one hand and expertsexchange on the other
b) How to put this? A whole lot of nerds really would like to be able to reduce the complexity of human relationships to math, too, and willingly participated.
But without a userbase that's dying for a solution, any solution, and especially a userbase prepared to put up with convoluted ranking-rating-have-I-got-enough-points-to-change-my-profile-picture-yet point-scoring games the software is actually a millstone. You're not going to get a liberal arts Q&A site that takes off with those restrictions. This is why StackExchange was such a dud.
By not realising this, their solution is more of the same! "Sure, you can start a site, you just need pi+4 users to seed your initial contract bounding, then that will need to be ranked to 6 by a quorum of level 3 users, and after an initial 26-day period of zzzzzzzzzz <click>".
You want to create a good Q&A site, you need to have a community, and it needs to be well-tended by empathic people who know how and where to prune. The software is pretty much irrelevant. Look at http://ask.metafilter.com/ for a success story: totally flat, forum-esque, but answers are obvious, there's no chatter or bullshit, and it works on the most amorphous and wide-ranging types of questions.
There is no shortcut solution to this problem. There is no way to mathematically manage human connections like this that works in this space. The route to success is careful relationship management, not yet more programming.
I disagree that the software is irrelevant. Discussion groups that don't allow voting have no way to distinguish answers that the community thinks are good from answers that the community thinks are bad. Discussion groups that don't allow editing have no way to change answers as the world changes, so wrong answers stick around. Discussion groups without tags are forced to splinter communities into smaller and smaller fragments because they have no way of dealing with overlapping communities. Discussion groups without reputation systems are overrun with spam.
I can't think of anything I disagree with MORE than the concept that "the software is irrelevant." The software DEFINES how the community works with each other and is absolutely critical.
Nor did I say the software per se was irrelevant: I agree it's vastly important to how a community interacts. But when it comes to community building it's beside the point: phpBB is very bad software for discussion, yes, but some excellent communities have formed nonetheless.
Good software facilitates communication and -- crucially -- it enables readers to use their established social skills. It stays out of the way, in other words. Metafilter, for example, has none of your "requirements" apart from a basic tagging system, but avoids every one the problems you think will result -- and it does it from nothing more than good relationship management and community stewardship.
By trying to automate away (or disperse to the "crowd") the hard work of that relationship management, StackOverflow has boxed itself into a niche where only nerds-with-a-need could bear to live. The rest will turn away and keep on searching, as the experience of StackExchange has shown.
[edit: first attempt made no sense!]
If it is the case, I think this is the fundamental tension: You've built software geared to rating and creating answers, but to get those answers you need vibrant communities -- and the resulting software is so complex and strictured it is effectively anti-community.
Take Wikipedia as an example. Community is necessary but it is not the goal. The goal is encyclopaedia making. Most online communities do not produce a wikipedia.
What this adds up to, in theory, is sacrificing some community building ability (more sites will dies from under participation)for more Q&A ability. While more of the remaining will produce a good archive of useful answers.
*This doesn't directly answer your original claim that the software is good for SO specifically but cannot be widely applied. But, if what I suggest is true, then you would expect it to appear that way.
(To be clear: I'm not referring to something like Windows here. SE is obviously complex but it isn't as complex as Windows. Much easier to copy and innovate around.)
I see it as a race now. You have to get that question and answer up before the other platforms do, to lock-in the Google advantage. You'll be leveraging your existing expert network in a sideways drift. Those experts already answer questions madly (and there are very few on the web) and now they have to battle to get their idea off the ground. Good plan. :)
You are missing out those snowflake sites (sorry Patrick) where the expert has zero SE cred but is the world expert on model trains just as model trains become the next bing thing. Still, over time you should have a reasonable monopoly on people who desire karma.
Unless someone comes up with a mechanism that can a) leverage karma whores better and b) discover and resolve hard topics faster.
I use SO all the time, have great success, and haven't made any friends there. Because that's not what it's for.
2) Maybe this model won't work for EnthusiasticCatBreeders.com, but it will probably work for a lot of sites. Maybe it will self-select for topics where the people interested are a bit nerdy.
That's OK. There is still a lot of room for nerdy growth. I can imagine sites about cell phones, economics, geomapping, and lots of other topics where the audience is a bit nerdy, there are right and wrong answers, and this will probably work.
You can do that on eBay, because the metric is really simple -- "did this user deliver, or did they rip you off?" But when it comes to judging the value of technical advice, it's much muddier.
We have thousands of years of experience at these sorts of judgements though, and can size people up in the blink of an eye. It's much more difficult online, but we're learning -- and numbers aren't really a part of it. Certainly not the morass of numbers of StackOverflow.
My main concern is that SO had such a large and willing user community from day 1, that you could survive problems in converting visitors into active participants just through sheer numbers. For a nascent community, there are the karmic barriers to entry (e.g. I've been a casual SO user for over a year, and am still not able to fix someone else's spelling mistake!). Also, the question domain of SO lends itself to being able to ask a fairly concise question and getting a decent answer with a minimum of back-and-forth. This is important, because SX handles discussion so poorly (and I realize that's by design).
Anyway, I hope it works out for you - I do admire your goals and ambition. I just hope you keep an open mind about what the software needs to do to best serve the new communities, and adjust it accordingly.
You don't to rank answers unless you have unproductive bullshit in the replies. While programmers might love the karma stuff, everyone else prefers it if the bullshit was just not tolerated by the community and deleted by moderators.
A SO site might perform well as a support channel for a software library product. I've used a mailing list in the past, but it's not as a good, in many ways. If it's free for commercial use, I might give this a go. It seems ideal to deliver support for an open-source software product - anyone done this?
Seems they would be quite happy with that sort of recurring revenue...
Maybe they did a survey among all the sites to come to your conclusion, but it seems odd they never tried go paid.
The main problem was that there was no way of charging the people who asked questions - who were the only ones likely to want to pay.
If Joel Spolsky somehow managed to actually touch Jason Calacanis, would some kind of catastrophic cosmic event occur? Or would they both simply annihilate each other?
There are a lot of companies built on the business model of making low-cost, low-quality pages for long-tail Google search results, either algorithmically or with low-paid humans. There's clearly an arbitrage opportunity there, providing some kind of semi-crappy web page on a topic so narrow that there isn't anything on the web yet, but low quality content doesn't interest me at all.
It's called spamming. Mahalo is spam, Jason is a spammer; friend or not that's simply what he does.
Having people vote for stuff within a framework they ultimately don't control is crazy. We maintain a façade of democracy in politics because it keeps the populace happy, but with Web sites, online communities, and programming languages.. good leadership typically comes straight from the "owners" - at least to start with.
At the end of the day though, I guess Stack Overflow is his baby and he can do what he likes. If Apple can change the rules mid-game, so can Spolsky ;-)
Instead of providing a service that allows people to create, maintain (and yes, perhaps fail) their own community Q&A sites as they see fit, the Stack Exchange team now seem to be aiming to crowd-source the creation and maintenance of Q&A sites deemed interesting enough to exist. And if you've listened to the past few podcasts, "interesting enough" generally means "contains pages likely to rank well in Google".
Trusted sources is a big problem on the web right now. There are a gazillion sources of information but it is increasing difficult to sift fact from opinion/fiction. Maybe this is their answer to this. Wolframalpha seems to be trying to address this as well but from a different approach.
This is sharecropping, pure and simple. That's bad, since it's not me doing the share cropping. I suspect they can be very successful. Usenet was wonderful .. until it wasn't. A network of sites that can give us high value information instead of the adwords dreck that is polluting the web, should indeed, be a net positive to the world.
Much like an interstate highway is a net positive to society, I suspect this network of sites will be also. It doesn't always work out so well for the little towns the highway goes through, however, and I fear the carnage that might result from this as well. Creative destruction is still destruction, hence my torn emotions.
Does a better alternative exist?
Totally off-topic question: how so? Don't most of these little nowhere towns turn into vast opportunities to build gas stations and hotels where no opportunity existed before? I'm not denying any bad side-effects, just asking what they are.
Before: Provide communities and companies the software and hosting that enabled the creation of high-quality Q&A sites.
Now: Create a carefully cultivated garden of user-maintained Q&A sites with active communities and minimal overlap.
And that's fine of course, but it seems a little odd to judge the former was failing (after what, six months?) by using the goals of the second as a criteria for success.
A Q&A site is not a piece of legistlation; it's an entreneurial endeavour.
It's best to leave entrepreneurs to be free to create, experiment and adapt.
Stackexhange will miss out on some great sites by rejecting them before they even get a start. The best sites will be those where the founder/s constantly adapt the site to demands of the community, not those who have the best idea upfront.
But as you say, that's where the OSS optios come in. :)
And just look at how many crap blogs are on each of those platforms. Their goal is to curate quality content and the free-reign model has already proven itself to be incapable of it.
I emailed them as well. SF Answers is my baby and I will do whatever it takes to keep it alive. SF Answers has huge potential, esp for our city folk, and I hope it can remain a site. Not really happy about this, but I'm a team player and would work directly with them on keeping this site up. Otherwise OSQA seems to fit the bill.. Fellow San Franciscans come join us!
I will continue to use SE, until they officially shut me down :(
It must be frustrating to not be able to break out of the programmer oriented market. I'm not saying this will be a failure but without the large audiences from Joel and Jeff's respective blogs they've got some serious mass marketing to do. It might be time hire a marketing firm.
That doesn't sound like a new business model, it sounds like wishful thinking.
So, now my idea has to be vetted? Lame.
For example, imagine I'm a shoe cobbler. I may want to contribute to a Stack Exchange so that it positions me as an expert and drives more traffic to my business.
That's the point of Stack Overflow careers. I'm not sure how that works for shoe cobblers.
If anyone feels like building a Q&A site for free without having to go through an approval procedure they can also check out http://www.qhub.com
I wish them the best but this seems like a pretty bad idea. They can obviously change course and I hope they do. Fortunately it seems like shapado.com offers what I'm looking for.
Then you get millions of visitors and then you monetize it as you please.
The time is ripe to replace google groups.
It's like the few hosted forum services out there, or an even simplier model, wp.com blogs vs. a blog on your own vps.
If it's important to you and you want control over quality, content and features, build it and host it yourself (yet another reason why I am not crazy about clouds).
The pricing for one thing was too expensive and should have more slabs (say starting from something like 10$ a month). $120/month is a serious commitment, expecially on something which might not really take of also.
imho the new plan is extremely complex and there is really no reason why i would want a community to 'approve' of my new qna site. Just plain wrong at the roots wrong.
I really like this behavioural economics stuff that stackoverflow are in to. They should get Dan Ariely on their podcast.
This site will remain free and operational until at least Tuesday, July 13, 2010.
What is the best drop in replacement?
They both appear to be close copies of StackExchange from a cursory look.
Here's the deal: SE sites either work, or don't. When they don't, they bring in $129 until the owner gets bored. When they do work, SE loses all the extra revenue they could be making if they owned it. This way, they get every extra advertising cent. Basically 'we can make more if we keep all the money in-house'.
This is the best way to clean up the Q&A and Forums landscape.
Mind you, I'm a bit unclear exactly what the sources of revenue are. I'm sure very targeted advertising would be one revenue stream.
If you don't let the admins make money, there is no reason for them to bother building a community.
StackExchange 2.0 is a weak attempt at still trying to replicate the unreplicateable (I know this is probably not a word). It will fail because few of these "new" sites will not pass muster during the beta phase.
It should read: "The success of the StackOverflow community was built on the backs of smart programmers...
And yes, SX2.0 will have a hard time building the critical mass around anything other than programming.
Then I noticed this from the start of the article, "Like the small-town mayor who suddenly finds herself running an entire state, our ambitions for Stack Overflow keep growing."
I have a hard time finding that to be anything but a casual and not very detailed analogy. Sarah Palin -> lots of ambition::the SO team -> lots of ambition. How is it snarky? (If anything, he's comparing himself and his team to Palin, so how snarky could it be.)
You're overanalyzing, I think.
I just don't see the upside to bringing in such a polarizing political figure. Regardless of what you think of Sarah Palin, it hits a sour note to find her in a product pitch.
Having said that, the two other early responses to your post do suggest that you may be right about how polarizing Sarah Palin is.
(Unless, of course, you are pro-Palin, but I'm assuming because you are able to type that you are not).