They realised that StackExchange was failing, but because they don't realise the reasons why their attempted correction is only making it worse.
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.
Sounds like you have a great business plan. In the meantime, I think that the Stack Overflow model has proven itself among nerds, and I think that your assertion that nerds are weird in some way and need completely different software than the rest of the world is not backed up by any evidence.
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.
I didn't say that nerds need completely different software: I implied that nerds were the only people who would put up with SO-style numbers games, because their need was so great and they can grok the system.
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.
Surely you have to build communities to do this, though? Your earlier answer mentioned how you needed voting so the "community" could choose best answers, you needed tags to keep sub-communities separate and so on. And one of the rating criteria for the new SE sites seems to be how much of a community they manage to create.
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.
I'm siding with spolsky here. The ultimate goal you have in mind is defining. Since building a community is hard and is the hurdle that kills most attempts, people will often see it as the goal. In many cases, it might be the goal.
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.
I think your reading to much into this. To me it seems like the stack exchange sites just got too little traffic to reach critical mass. Ask Metafilter is an exception to a lot of other communities which became awful as they grew.
No matter how good the software is, it's a short-term advantage. It gets you a ticket to the game but confers no sustainable advantage because the good bits will get copied. What matters is what you do on top of that software to build sustainable advantage.
(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.
1) I don't think they're trying to model 'the complexity of human relationships.' That's what Facebook tries to do. The trust metrics are crude, but the real goal seems to be to get credible upvotes for answers.
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.
Just to expand a bit -- when I talk about modelling the complexity of human relationships I don't mean making friends, I mean how they try to turn the complicated ways we have of judging and trusting other people into a number.
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.
I think most people here agree that SO is head-and-shoulders above its competition. I can point to specific things about it that I don't like, but in the end I come back and I appreciate the content. What I am curious to see (and I think this is roughly what bonaldi is talking about) is how well the SX software supports other less-technical communities.
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.
Applying your magic sort() encourages replies by users who want to play a game. That only works if those users exist and actually have useful contributions to make — both of those properties are much diminished outside the SO population.
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.
Google gave me metafilter answers for my non-technical questions that were really excellent a few times; but I hadn't made that connection til your comment. Time to try it directly!
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?
Well there's plenty of sites owners (with credit cards) that might assume otherwise. It depends on the target audience, but if it was for say doctors or lawyers 1/10th the traffic or even 1/100th the traffic of a typical programming site would be a success.
Maybe they did a survey among all the sites to come to your conclusion, but it seems odd they never tried go paid.
This harks back to our corporate goal to “make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions.” A ghost town, without traffic, does not get people answers, but it does draw a few people away from other sites that might do so. We do not believe that the Internet benefits from putting up placeholder sites with negligible traffic that do not attract high quality communities. And we want the Stack Exchange brand to be synonymous with great community Q&A sites, even if we don’t necessarily cover every topic under the sun.
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?
I do the best I can not to comment on competitors, although I can't always live up to my ideal.
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.
I think he's taken too much inspiration from politics. Turfing out the simple "pay X, get Y" idea, we now get ~1000 words explaining a concept, its bureaucratic underpinnings, and a rationale of how something that offers less is, in fact, offering a lot more. Yet no longer do you "own" a site you can invest time into, you're instead a caretaker for a site that stays in the SO fold for them to monetize.. a bit like a sub-Reddit (except Reddit's source is open so you can take your toys home, if you wish).
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".
If that was the case, they wouldn't be (a) creating huge barriers to creating new communities, and (b) tearing down sites that failed to attract a threshold amount of participation. It's clearly not simply a Google spam scheme.
I have no idea what they are actually thinking but their new direction reminds me of the story of how black pearls became sought after. One aspect of this is that the StackExchange sites might end up with a reputation boost based on surviving the vetting process. Perhaps, by virtue of this survival, it will make people more inclined to trust the sites.
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.
It is sharecropping to the extent that StackOverflow is sharecropping, but not as much as Yahoo Answers, Experts Exchange and others. Yes, you provide content and someone else makes money. On the other hand, you get answers and the content you provide is Creative Commons. You can download it all and start your own site if you like. I'd say that's a pretty open-handed and friendly approach.
"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."
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.
Not a fan of the SX family, but you have to give them credit for recognizing relatively early on that something wasn't working, and actually implementing the significant changes to try and make it better.
Their new business model is more complicated than their previous business model. The five steps to citizenship seems like a weird concept. People that want to host a Q&A site like these don't want to be told they aren't good enough to have a top-level domain. Imagine wanting a blog and WordPress or Tumblr thought you undeserving of a top-level domain. Stack Exchange 2.0 has more steps to have a top-level domain site than the Chinese government has for it's citizens to acquire a domain. I'm sure there is a good Rails/PHP Q&A clone webapp.
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. :)
Well it's not really like anyone will be running these sites independent of Joel, Jeff and co. So really this is just a mostly automated method of spinning off the software and getting a vibrant community at launch like SO had rather than stabbing in the dark at what people actually want.
Fellow Stackexchange admin for http://sfanswers.com. I'm glad I waited for beta to end, before spending thousands on marketing, shirts, stickers, etc...
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 :(
This seems like history repeating itself. Joel's first foray into the consumer market (CityDesk) was a failure but he was able to fall back on the large community of programmers his blog attracted to make FogBugz a success. With StackExchange it seems like things are happening in the reverse order.
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.
I doubt that it being free has much to do with "VC rules!". Given the success of fogcreek, I'd guess that they could've made stackexchanges free from the get-go. They just found a new business model. Maybe with the help of their VCs.
This sounds immensely complicated, maybe they should have worked out a better way for selling the software. Making it free and having this stupendously complex proposal system seems kinda short-sighted.
If quality is so important they need to get designers to look at their sites fast. StackOverflow is fine (especially as it's for programmers) but the original clone sites (the PC and Server ones) have terrible colour schemes that are both hard to interact with and simply reflect badly on the brand. Getting a UI expert or two to work on optimising the UI for non-programmers wouldn't go astray. Getting someone like Smashing Magazine or someone involved in a design-shard of StackExchange would be a good start.
There's a lot on money on the line with programming. The quicker we get answers, the faster we get our job done. I can't think of another field where answers are even so possible as in programming. If it were possible with Law or Engineering, I think you would see those type of professionals flock to an SE type site too.
If there were an easy way to have a StackExchange site running alongside an old established forum it could really kick off. For example, I think the Ubuntu Forums would be dramatically better if I didn't have to wait through 8 pages of posts to find the best solution to a problem.
I'm a pretty big fan of Joel, Jeff, and Stackoverflow so I was really hoping for something other than what I got here. I was hoping to try using a stackexchange site for software support. Instead what I'm looking at seems very complicated and pretty much useless for all but the largest business applications. It may or may not work for personal interest sites but it seems like business users lose out in this scheme.
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.
I see an impending problem with using a 3rd party service like stack exchange, not just for hosting but for operating the content you create. Just like there is voting to enable a site, they could just as easily take it away from you someday.
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).
I would argue that some tweaks to their original plan would have make it work much better, plus some plain old evangelising.
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.
Shapado looks good, and its Rails based. However it has a dependency on MongoDB , which makes it less suitable for widespread deployment, as well as being licensed under the GNU Affero General Public license, which is something to be wary of.
During this phase, people who are interested in a potential site are asked to electronically “sign” a commitment to help make the site a success. They are committing publicly to participate actively in the site, by asking questions, answering questions, developing a system of tags, and generally helping the site get off the ground.
I really like this behavioural economics stuff that stackoverflow are in to. They should get Dan Ariely on their podcast.
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'.
i have one of the bigger stack exchange sites...and I'll be moving to Shapado if Stack Exchange kicks me off. I was already looking into them, since their rates were almost 3 times cheaper $50/1mm page views vs SEs $129/1mm pageviews.
If you don't let the admins make money, there is no reason for them to bother building a community.
The success of StackOverflow was built on the backs of smart programmers who don't say anything unless they have something good to say. I've been to a few of the other StackExchange sites and the communities were not the same. Mostly the blind leading the blind.
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.
I'm really tired of political bias sipping into everything I read on topics not related to politics. It's such bad business too. Why would you make a snarky comment risking pissing 50% of your readers off, when you can simply contain yourself and stay on subject instead?
I looked and looked, and my first thought was "He doesn't like Schoolhouse Rock? Schoolhouse Rock isn't political."
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.)
My focus wasn't really on subtlety (or lack of it). The parent poster was upset about political bias. My point was just that the joke didn't suggest bias to me. Anyone who runs for Vice President is (pretty much by definition) full of ambition; so are the SO people, according to them. That seems to be a pretty limited and simple analogy. I don't see an insult there of any kind, much less political bias. Even more so since the whole point of the analogy was "we have this quality too." I don't see why any of this would "hit a sour note."
Having said that, the two other early responses to your post do suggest that you may be right about how polarizing Sarah Palin is.