Spolsky says that the easiest way he's heard people explain the difference between Stack Overflow and old fashioned forums is that when you go to Stack Overflow, the right answer is at the top of the page. That's a charming way to put it and it's sure to be interesting to see the team that's assembled take a shot at building that kind of experience around other kinds of topics.
Now THAT is an elevator pitch: Stack Overflow is just like old fashioned forums, only when you go to Stack Overflow, the right answer is at the top of the page.
And the iPhone is really just a cleaned up smart phone.
StackOverFlow took an old idea, cleaned it up and made a better product. Seems pretty simple after the fact.
Getting the small things right in a product really makes a big difference. StackOverFlow isn't perfect (and neither was the iPhone or iPad) but they got a good minimal viable product and now they're off to the races.
When skimming the site I've occasionally seen better answers at the bottom of a page getting ignored while people shout about the top few answers. If I didn't know better, I would have ignored them too.
In such a case, how is the asker, lacking such experience, able to pick out the right answer except by number of upvotes? Same goes for anybody reading the page. I'm just saying a popularity-driven Q&A site has its drawbacks.
I think it is safe to assume that there is a gradient in experience among SO users and that for those on the lower end, votes may be more influenced by the issues I just listed than any standard of correctness. It's simple crowd psychology, and already well established at other voting sites like digg and reddit.
Yes, people are influenced by reputation and good writing on subjective questions, but those are discouraged on SO, and they don't really have one right answer anyway.
They are both great. Really, every forum should just have a Q & A section that implements Stack Overflow or use a similar widget.
Stack Overflow gives a man a fish.
Forums teach a man to fish.
Now, when you need a fish, you need a fish. You don't need to learn to fish. But in the long run, forums, and discussion, usually provide better value. This doesn't mean SO can't teach people. However, it doesn't encourage teaching. It's setup for questions and answers, not discussion.
The basic idea with StackOverFlow is to ask well-defined questions and get well-defined answers, without the long messy threaded response found in most forums. The worst is when the thread ends in a dead end.
The wiki feature and the ability to include formated code are very useful. The reputation economy is essential, so more questions get answered, including older ones. What happens in a forum when no one answers a question? Ask again a few days later?
Also, they do have short discussions through comments, which I have found to be effective.
Finally, I think you, and many others, are completely missing the point of StackOverFlow, and hopefully other future sites like it. If say, for example, 100,000 people are learning [Lisp, Scala, Java, C++, Go, jQuery, C#, etc], they are going to have the a lot of similar questions that really only need to be asked once, with one or two solutions provided. Now the next 99,999 people don't need to ask the same question. So, now we have taken the FAQ and improved upon it by creating it dynamically through voting, and question matching.
I'm guessing you think being a smart-ass is effective?
"Books aren't set up for discussion."
No. Books are set for learning as well. Discussion isn't the only means for learning. IRC/Chat is the same way. You can learn with this as well.
"StackOverFlow is to ask well-defined questions and get well-defined answers"
Which is another way of saying what I said.
You then go one to promote several things that SO appears to do.
Reputation, for example, promotes answering questions. My experience is that the answer is succinct, and simple. It provides the answer, and that is good.
It provides the fish.
SO doesn't, however, encourage teaching. Even the setup is simple: ask a question, get an answer. The answer is most likely the answer that provides the quickest fish. Oh, you do find occasionally someone will provide a very thoughtful response, but this is the exception, not the norm for SO.
"Finally, I think you, and many others, are completely missing the point of StackOverFlow"
No, I haven't. My post that you replied to even said that what SO does it does well. You're just getting defensive, whipping insults, and for some reason, seem upset that someone wouldn't kneel down before the all might SO. I wouldn't be surprised if you are an Apple zealot.
My main contention is that SO is setup for providing answers to questions. It's not setup for discussion, or learning. SO's success is a result of human nature. People needing an answer go there, get the answer, and leave. They copy/paste and move on. That's the nature of SO. You can disagree, but you'd be wrong.
SO isn't bad. It provides fish. I love fish (tilapia is a good fish). It's a fish monger. It doesn't encourage providing bait, or tackle. Just look through the majority of answers that are rated highest. They provide code. Code someone can copy and paste. Sometimes they'll provide a link to the place someone can get code, or get a direct answer. Rarely is their discussion as to why someone is asking a question. This isn't encouraged. Answering a question with a question does't get you reputation. The reputation economy encourages answers.
I do want to address this:
"What happens in a forum when no one answers a question?"
I assume you actually mean when no one responds to a question. Answering a question is different from responding to one.
No response usually means no one is capable of answering the question. Rather than provide a half-assed answer for reputation, it simple goes unanswered.
However, no answer usually means the question is a poor one. If SO's great power is in answering questions like "Reversing strings", then it's really not tackling anything difficult. These questions get answered all the time. The questions that are more difficult, however, require discussion. When their is no direct answer. Indeed, suggesting that their is an answer (as SO does) hurts the discussion process. Suddenly, instead of learning, you read the Question, and the Answer, and assume that the Answer is the end of the discussion. It's THE Answer. But it's not. It's merely the one with the most votes.
So no, I'm right. SO gives fish. It doesn't teach fishing.
(That, and Jon Skeet.)
I wish reddit, HN, and SO used Google's Ajax. I made a very simple JS/CSS tool to add a Google search box to any site: http://chir.ag/projects/drop-search/ - I use it on my blog and it works pretty well.
Oftentimes the bootstrap vs. venture capital debate gets rather heated and adversarial. But the dichotomy is a false one.
I wonder where this drive is supposed to come from for people who are indifferent to the StackExchange software because they haven't participated in sister sites much (or at all).
I mean, I'm even very familiar with and enjoy using the software (StackOverflow), yet I can't be bothered using SuperUser for my general tech needs, let alone creating a site of my own.
"Before I would have walked around New York for weeks looking at all the office space to save $2k/month."
They receive 25M page views a month. So even at $5CPM that's $100k/month in revenue. I'd think that would be enough income to get the ball rolling in an office downtown.
Maybe they have a hard time selling ads?
So is this just a pickier StackExchange?
How do they plan to offer objective answers (or is this just restating what StackOverflow does today)?
I'm just not sure this is the case. Joel seemed to have a much better grasp of the big picture. You could tell that he'd thought everything through really well, in the way that you'd expect from a successful business owner.
There's no doubt that Jeff did all the 'work' between the pair - Joel was mainly advising. But I would be very careful about writing off his contribution. I would personally bet a lot of money that Atwood going it alone would have been far less successful.
I'm not saying that Joel contributed more than Jeff either. When you look at two partners, and claim that one is more important than the other... that's a pretty big call to make. And unless you personally know them, I'm not sure you have the evidence to back it up.
Also, Jeff was never a bigger voice in computing than Joel.
But in terms of who has the bigger "voice", there's no comparison. Atwood is a great popularizer of tech-related topics; he writes short, sweet, lozenge-like posts that appeal to programmers as well as technical non-programmers; whereas Spolsky's focus has always been more narrow. And going by any metric you care to throw out there (Compete, RSS, Alexa, whatever) there's no comparison in terms of traffic.