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Why Stack Overflow Sucks and Participating There is Impossible (goofygrin.wordpress.com)
339 points by acconrad 2336 days ago | hide | past | web | 202 comments | favorite



Let me add some perspective as a relatively highly ranked user (cletus) on SO.

I've seen this kind of post before and frankly it's annoying. The typical template is "I tried to answer 2 questions and didn't get 1000 points so it sucks" or some variation revolving around faster answerers or whatever.

Rather than being a problem, SO is a superb solution for the person asking the question because they do get fast answers.

Compare this to forums or mailing lists which I abhor as a means of asking programming questions. You'll often get no replies or useless replies (eg a bunch of people who don't understand the problem telling you that you shouldn't be doing that or asking you why) or the right answer might be buried on page 17 when the thread descended into an OT discussion on page 7.

There are certainly low-hanging fruit on SO (reputation wise) and people do compete for those. In my case, I used SO to learn things because of the quick feedback loop you got when you said something demonstrably wrong.

Now I barely go there because whether there's something to answer or not is pretty random and I really don't have time for the waiting game anymore. Other priorities now.

But to complain about a system where there are too many people answering questions is, to be perfectly blunt, ridiculous and narcissistic ("what about me?" rather than what about the asker).

Also, the questions are, for me anyway, a lot less interesting. For a lot of topics, they've now been covered. New questions are rarer and cover increasingly edgier cases. So you're reliant on new languages, tools and problems, which doesn't seem to come at the same pace the earlier questions did, which were basically backfill.

Let me also say that there is an art to answering questions on SO. The OP bemoans the quick answer getting the points while you write a thoughtful answer. My response? To paraphrase Steve Jobs, "he's doing it wrong". SO teaches you this.

If the question can be answered in one line, this is what you do. If more comments will add to the value of the answer, explain deeper issues or perhaps help in cases not necessarily directly relevant to the OP but possibly relevant more generally, then you edit your answer as you go, adding as necessary.

And if you think you can't write thoughtful answers on SO, you obviously haven't looked at some of the great answers that are there.


I agree with what you're saying, but I don't think it addresses the post. It's certainly true that Stack Overflow is the best place to get answers to programming questions and I won't dispute that. Here, though, is what I think the problem is. I think it mirrors the OP's problem.

Stack Overflow became and is the best place to get answers to programming problems because of the community it has been able to build. There are always competent people ready to provide an answer and they do it quickly. However, the problem is that the community is difficult to participate in. You need rep to do anything and you don't get rep until you do something. You also need to compete with a lot of other people in order to contribute usefully, which makes the barrier even higher. Ultimately, this undermines the community, which is what makes Stack Overflow good.

You can say that these effects can be ignored because answers are still given and you'd be right. But the difficulties do exist. I have enough rep on SO now to do most things (maybe not down-voting), but it was hard to get, so I can attest to what the OP was saying. I can only imagine it's harder now after the community has grown and rep inflation has kicked in.


Exactly. The OP's point is that it's hard to get over the initial rep hurdle so that you can participate.

This prompts the idea: is there some sort of way that new users could quickly and reliably gain a minimum amount of rep by doing a bit of maintenance on the site? Say, flagging spam or suggesting correction which must be approved by someone with lots of rep? If this is possible, why don't more people know about it.


The 'initial rep hurdle' is so low that any dimwit -- pardon my French -- can overcome it... As some others have pointed out, too easily actually, judging from the number of bad answers from people with a few K of rep.


I don't care to participate in SO often. I don't have high rep.

I _can_ provide insight.

every once in a while I find somewhere that I can provide some value or insight, whether via editing an answer with a url that's out of date, a comment expanding on the answer, etc... and it seems like I never can.

I don't care to jump through the hurdles to get to that point. I didn't come there to ask a question. I didn't come there to sift through questions to answer.

I came looking for something. I stumbled upon something where I could provide value and was shut down because I have better things to do with my time than to jump through hoops.

It's fine for the power users who want the world to see their rep, or the people trolling for questions regarding their pet projects. It sucks for the casual user.

So, yes, in theory the rep hurdle is quite low. I've just got better things to do with my time. -- Which I already wasted trying to help someone in the first place.


This has been my experience as well. Actually, it's worse. I actually managed to earn a bunch of points on SO by finding some questions that needed better questions...but it took a long time to get there for all the usual reasons of not wanting to jump through those hoops or spend lots of time trolling the site. Then I did something really stupid: I had an outstanding unanswered question about a really obscure subject, and I thought well, is someone answers this they deserve a bounty, so I added one. I didn't really care about rep, and my question was hard, so I put most of my points into it. It didn't occur to me that spending most of my rep would cause my account to degrade back into noob mode; I was thinking I had earned the privelegs of a normal user and they were mine to keep.

Worst of all, my question went unanswered, and the bounty was just claimed by the system.

I haven't earned back enough reputation to be a normal user again, although I have stumbled across many SO questions/answers that could use my insight. Since I can't use the site correctly, I just leave.


You do realize that they can't just grant anyone the right to edit questions or answers and that they don't have magical insight into your abilities? I don't know how you propose to solve the problem of automatically allowing those that have ability to bear responsibility, but I don't think there is any site that does it better than SO.

  It sucks for the casual user.
I'm a casual user (I have 1.5K rep and subscribed reasonably early, so we're talking about 10 decent answers per year) and I don't think so.

  Which I already wasted trying to help someone in the 
  first place.
Then SO is not for you, because SO only makes sense if its users want to help others, for whatever reason. I personally like trying to explain something clearly and concisely and I like solving the problems that are sometimes posed. I answer questions for my own good, but it is gratifying that someone else also profits.


A casual user should at the very least be able to flag an answer for review by a more senior user (and earn rep). For example, fixing broken links, or Facebook API changes that make old answers invalid.


I see your point, but I really don't think that 1.5k rep qualifies as casual in the context of the discussion.


I have answered 76 in two years and 4 months (and posed 5). Let's be generous and say that's 1 answer every week. Is that not 'casual use'?


Over a sustained 2.5 year period, not really. I mean what percentile of activity/reputation do you think you'd be in for all members in that period? I'd guess well over 50... perhaps 75 or 80?

Programming is my full time job and I ask questions on SO somewhat regularly when I get stumped, and occasionally peruse for questions I can answer, but I don't make any efforts in particular to raise my rep for its own sake, and I just reached 100 rep after being a member for a year. I feel like I fit into the 'casual user' camp that he's referring to in the OP since I'm still pretty limited in my participation even though I FEEL like a somewhat invested member of the community. But I don't think these issues would really apply to you at your level of activity (and kudos to you for that, btw :) ).


I think this is key. I answer questions to help other people. I also answer them to help improve my own ability to explain solutions to programming problems. Usually the problems are ones that I myself have dealt with before. I tend to answer questions pretty late, in a few relatively low-view tags, and I can tell from the view counts that maybe 10-50 people at most ever read any of my answers. But usually the asker of the question sees it and finds it useful enough to accept it.


The problem is that I want to help, but I can't. If they've added what other users have suggested, that anons or newbs can provide answers/edits that have to be approved by a more senior user that probably covers about 99% of the situations that I'm concerned with.

You're right that the system can't know my insight. But the community can. It is a community right?

I'm cool with going through some sort of approval process. If it means that it takes a few extra minutes for my changes to get in then so be it.


This week, the ability for anonymous, 0 rep users to edit questions was added. They go into a queue where other users must approve or reject the proposed edit, but you can drive-by suggest those improvements now.


Agreed I have not really been participating for long but have managed to get myself upto a point where I can participate easily. It just requires some effort and some knowledge


Yes. Ask questions. Asking questions gets you rep (and quite quickly too, if your questions are voted up).


Valid, but asking questions is hard to do consistently. I've only ever asked questions if I've been unable to deal with a problem. Answering questions is something I can do on my own time because it's fun. Answering questions is what draws me to the Stack Overflow community.

The way I view it it's just a particularity of the way Stack Overflow has been set up. I think cletus is correct - rep cannot be your goal or you're bound to get frustrated as the OP found out.


Why not ask questions that you've solved yourself with much effort and googling? That would mean that that knowledge is captured on SO for easier access by others.


To be a bit brutal:

Peter Programmer knows Python very well and is a highly skilled programmer, but there is a rep hurdle Peter can't pass because there are already tons of eager Python programmers answering every question at least as good as Peter. This means SO doesn't need Peter or his contributions. At all.

If your contributions are unique and useful, you pass the rep hurdle easily.


Unique and useful to lots of people, you pass the rep hurdle easily. If it's only useful to a few people passing the rep hurdle will take a very long time.


Yeah, I answered several Android development questions, and at first got NO votes, despite having the best (and sometimes only) answer.

So I trolled the "new" queue for five minutes, found a C++ question, answered it, and POOF, I had some rep. It helps that I know C++ REALLY well.

Eventually those Android answers started getting upvotes, and now I have somewhere around 400 rep, which is enough to do what I need.

The badges bust me up. It's like a video game -- for programming questions! In any event, being able to comment and vote on answers was what I wanted.


As you have mentioned Python, let met tell you that the Python community on SO is awesome. People generally upvote all the good/correct answers to a question. This will not only appreciate their good work, but also make them answer more questions. In recent days, the percentage of questions on HTML/CSS, jQuery has increased greatly. The questions related to general purpose programming languages tend to be more unique than HTML/CSS.


I have the same feeling about HN. I've been regularly visiting HN for a year now, commenting when I have something insightful and voting articles and comments up if they're exceptional. Yet I still don't have enough karma to downvote. The feeling I get is- I'm a long-time member of the community, what do I need to do to be trusted with a simple downvote?

This isn't that bad since I can still be part of any discussion, but it makes feel unwelcome and a little frustrated when I see something that should be downvoted.


StackOverflow and Hacker News both seem to actively discourage casual participation. I am the sort of person who doesn't like to speak unless I have something new to add, so I don't post comments or answer questions often.

However, I'm quite happy to use my time and energy to tend the garden and pull weeds, and plant something new when I happen to have a really great seed. HN and SO both tell me they don't want me there -- fine, their sites, their rules. But I do feel this encourages a high noise to signal ratio, eventually clogging the site and making it less useful.


500 days and 2 karma...here's one more. BTW, apparently 200 gets me- absolutely nothing.


What I find even more frustrating is getting enough karma to do things like downvoting, and then losing those abilities out of the blue because the requirements were moved up.


hackernews, what?


Perhaps my own experience is atypical but I'll elaborate anyway.

SO had been out of beta for a 4-5 months before I really started answering questions. I had dipped my toe in the water a couple of times prior with varying results: one particularly successful answer, several unsuccessful answers.

Granted, now is not a few months after launch. Questions tend to be more esoteric, there are more question snipers/campers and so on. But IMHO the same principles still apply: be quick and be concise. You can expand a concise answer with a longer answer but you can't usually ignore the concise answer.

Now some consider that a bad thing. Me? I think it trains people how to give good answers and not just for SO but in their work life in general: front load the information people ask for and then expand on it.

As for getting the initial rep: getting rep to vote to close and so on takes awhile but do you need that? The more annoying levels are when you can't comment or upvote. That you can get fairly quickly just by asking 1-2 questions if not answering them.

My own experience is that newbies who ask good questions or give good answers I (and others) will upvote them simply to get them past these points (to about 50 rep).

As for the barrier to entry and community aspects, there are issues here. In fact, I raised this very issue 1.5 years ago [1] and I still have mixed feelings about it.

Ultimately though, an abundance of answerers I don't consider to be a problem. With attrition, others will replace them. I'd only worry if no one is answering.

I don't see the value of SO is being in the community per se. Not in the same sense that the value in Quora (IMHO) is entirely in the community (which presents real long-term risks).

What SO did well, which obviously affected the community that grew around it (and Joel has spoken about this), is that it made bad behaviour hard, something people would actually complain about. Example: a common complaint is that SO makes discussion hard. Well, that's actually kinda the point. Discussions are 99% noise in the context of Q&A. SO allows good answers to float to the top with the voting mechanism.

Remember: rep isn't an end, it's a means to an end. It's also a way of solving problems that would otherwise require human intervention. For example, the minimum rep for editing answers. This isn't a de facto claim that a certain rep threshold means you know what you're talking about. It's simply a way of expressing the site's trust in you, as a contributor, rather than attesting to the accuracy of your technical knowledge.

Better that than Wikipedia-style revert wars that require constant mod attention.

SO is an excellent system for askers and answerers of programming questions. I'm simply unconvinced that this models translates well to other areas (as per the StackExchange model for other sites).

[1] http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/1483/are-power-users...


Re: "But to complain about a system where there are too many people answering questions is, to be perfectly blunt, ridiculous and narcissistic"

I've never tried to participate in Stack Overflow as a hyper-active question answerer, but as a sometimes-user of the site who ends up there via Google often when performing coding question searches, the site still suffers from what has been dubbed "The Fastest Gun in the West" problem. I can usually find answers that are at least a useful starting point to solving my core problem on Stack Overflow but they are very often not the top ranked answer and are often way at the bottom sitting with a 0 rating due to having been posted "long" after the question went live (and by "long" after I usually mean like the next day). The top rated stuff is often superficial junk answers that just happened to be the best available when the question was still a hot one.

So I'd argue that even from a non-poster's view, the site is broken (because I have to dig through it more than I should have to) though still ultimately useful.


This happens sometimes, but I don't think it's endemic. I've seen people come in a day late, even in questions where an answer has been accepted, and get tons of votes. It just has to be obviously much better than the others and you have to hope the stars don't align against you (as with so many things in life). The "fastest gun" problem typically occurs when the best answer does not really stand out to people.

For example, glancing at my top five answers, one of them was posted the day after the others in the question and got four times as many votes as the next top answer. I remember that at the time I wrote my answer, a very low-quality answer from somebody who didn't know Ruby very well was accepted, but now mine is accepted and the other guy graciously deleted his.

And that one's still getting votes. People come across those old questions and vote the good answers up years later. So the site can correct itself as long as people are willing to do that.


Unless something has changed, you need a minimum level of reputation to upvote. If you are not a member of the site (I have a vague memory of starting with only 10 rep - I have no idea now) you have no mechanism to actually do as you suggest until after you've posted or asked a question that has gotten at least one vote.


I just created an account there after years of lurking and absorbing knowledge from other's questions and answers, but I only have 1 rep.

Oddly enough, I created the account specifically to upvote the answer that solved my problem of which another member had asked about, but I am unable to do so until I submit a problem of my own that has not already been answered.


Yeah, that's still true — people who haven't participated in the site cannot upvote. I'm not sure if there was a larger point that I'm missing. Things still get upvoted quite a bit even with the rep requirement (and you could make a reasonable argument that the rep requirement means the votes you get are marginally better indicators of quality).


I presume that when you find questions in this state you're upvoting the "good but slow" answers? The original asker may have accepted the fast answer and moved on, but if you're landing on the question now, it's definitely not too late to improve the content you found.


I regularly upvote older questions and answers that I find interesting or helpful. It's also fun to have my own old answers upvoted or commented on, which prompts me to go back and reread them.


Do you take the trouble to upvote those answers that are helpful to you? I think that, given some time, the best answers of all questions will slowly bubble up, but that only happens if folks like you and me upvote the answers that are actually good


Generally, no, I don't upvote the answers, because I have no idea what open id provider I used to make my old stack overflow account, which brings me to the other broken thing about Stack Overflow... Open ID. Nice in theory, hellish in practice.


You need rep to upvote and downvote.


Yes, 15 to upvote, 125 to downvote. Asking a few serious questions is bound to earn you the three upvotes (you get rep for your questions being upvoted) required to be able to upvote. Honestly, I don't understand the fuss. You really only need to use the site as a consumer to gain enough rep to participate.


I've generally stopped answering questions on SO, unless they're explicitly related to the Delphi compiler and RTL and nobody else has answered them - and I find these with a combination of Google search alert and RSS feed on SO tags, which are delayed, rather than by visiting the site.

Something that would have kept me there is something along the lines of this:

http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/19659/search-filters...

If I could filter questions by minimum rep, I could look for questions that aren't by complete noobs - and the noobs are getting into the 2-5k rep range now owing to repeated asking of simple questions. It would be more stimulating to answer questions that stump expert users; as it is, I fear that the site is driving away these people post haste.

A more explicit version of my motivation for asking is in the original version:

http://meta.stackoverflow.com/posts/19659/revisions

... but it was downvoted as people seemed to be misreading me.


The reputation might be a sort inverse filter: thousands of people participate in the programming jokes questions whereas even perfect answers to questions like "Under conditions X, Y, Z how can my foo do bar?" are unlikely to get much love.

It's those hard questions I love StackOverflow for (and there's no rush of people sniping them).


"SO is a superb solution for the person asking the question because they do get fast answers."

You want an even faster answer?

Ask on IRC.

As far as programming questions go, freenode is usually the best place to go (with a minority or apps and projects off on some other irc networks, sometimes).

That said, HN, forums, mailing lists, usenet, and SO are usually better for preserving answers for others to learn from once the question has already been asked by someone else.

The quality and depth of the answers can sometimes be better in these other media that are more well suited to longer, uninterrupted, essay-like answers.

On the other hand, that's not always the case, since on IRC there is a much higher level of interaction and you also have the ability to interrupt the speaker and ask for clarification on any point, with immediate feedback.

As a very rough analogy, I generally find IRC to be more like having a real-time spoken conversation with a teacher (or teachers). Whereas those other media are something more akin to correspondence via letters and email.

Of course, you don't get upvotes or points for answering questions on IRC. But the system works very well anyway. And, honestly, who really cares about these silly tokens anyway?


I've asked a question in freenode channels then idled for the better part of a day, or even a few days, with little traffic and no answers. SO is faster, often much faster.


It really just depends on what you're asking about. My opinion is that IRC is a better medium for common languages with popular open-source implementations like PHP, Python, or C and SO is usually a better medium for languages with popular closed-source implementations, like C# (though freenode's ##c# is sometimes helpful) or ActionScript/Flash. More enterprise people are on SO than IRC, I guess.


It could have just been the case that more experts for the particular area you're interested in were on SO at the time you asked that question. Had you asked a different question on a different topic, perhaps there would have been more experts ready to answer it on IRC than on SO.

Having spent a long time on IRC, I can attest to seeing many people's questions getting answered there constantly, and usually (on the active channels, at least) very quickly (ie. often within seconds or a minute or two). Fifteen minutes is usually considered a long time to wait in an active channel for an answer to a question that isn't really obscure.

Of course the likelihood of an answer decreases with the obscurity of the question, the lack of popularity/appropriateness of whatever it is you're asking about, and depends on when and how you ask the question. The same goes for any other medium of communication.

I'm happy that you've had a positive experience on SO, and sorry that you haven't had much luck with IRC. But that doesn't mean that your experience is a typical one.


I'll take it as encouraging that I've reached the level of expertise where my questions are more quickly answered on SO--I will grant that "where do I find an Ubuntu driver for my video card" will almost certainly be answered more quickly on #ubuntu than on Serverfault or Superuser.


"I'll take it as encouraging that I've reached the level of expertise where my questions are more quickly answered on SO"

This attitude of yours says more about your lack of experience with and appreciation of IRC than it does about its relative merits in respect to SO.


That's not an attitude. That's an appropriate response to assertions you made about the obscurity of questions and unpopularity of platforms that will receive no response on IRC. I realize it was not a humble response, but it was not an attitude.

As to inexperience, I'll admit I've only been on Efnet's #help since 1997-ish and Freenode since around 2005, but that's still much longer than I've been on SO.


>I'll take it as encouraging that I've reached the level of expertise where my questions are more quickly answered on SO

You have no idea how devs actually function then.

Almost every open source project that is active and of a certain size has an IRC dev channel where they hash stuff out.

I've worked at more than one company where dev and ops idled in private IRC channels as well.


My questions are not of the sort "Why hasn't my patch been committed?" I consider this a difference in type of expertise more than a difference in level of expertise.


> Ask on IRC.

Nearly every time I asked a programming question on IRC I've had bad experiences with arrogant users who think you're wasting their time with your noobness. Now of course I don't believe that everyone on IRC is like that, but it's really the last place I'd recommend for newbies.


I used to agree with you, the "old" IRC nets are full of rude, mean and cruel people. But FreeNode is an excellent place for programming. I have the most experience in the python, haskell and freebsd channels and the people there are excellent, responsive and friendly. The C/C++ and Java channels attract slightly more grumpy people, but even those are generally quite helpful if you try and act with a modicum of sense (if you are on HN you probably exceed the requirements by far).

EDIT: Incidentally, freenode is also the home of the unofficial HN IRC channel (#startups).


You've been unlucky. Yes, sometimes there are people on IRC who are unhelpful to and/or arrogant towards newbies. And some channels are worse in this respect than others. Fortunately, however, that is the exception rather than the rule.

Some channels, like #help (or most other channels with the word "help" in them, like #linuxhelp) are especially patient with newbies.

That said, it certainly does help to know and follow IRC netiquette , and know how to ask questions[1].

[1] - http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html


I'm in a non-US timezone, so all I get in most (software-related) IRC channels is crickets chirping. SO is like a searchable log of an IRC channel for when my question was asked and answered 4 days ago.


It's true that freenode is relatively quiet when most people in US time zones are asleep. But even then, it's rarely completely dead. In the larger channels, it's quite likely that someone will be awake and answer your questions even then.

But you're right about the searchability of SO. That is one of the strengths having a good, searchable archive of questions and answers. Forums, some mailing lists, and Usenet also share that strength, to some extent.

On the other hand, some IRC logs have been published, and google search results do sometimes happen upon such public logs.

You can also keep your own long-term logs, just by turning on logging in your IRC client, and leaving your client idling in the channels that interest you.


I think the problem with the OPs line of argument is that the goal is to begin commenting right away. When I give a good answer to a question that already has some answers I'll eventually get up votes. It takes time for new people to come looking for the same answer and vote up my answer, but it happens. A few of my answers are now voted higher than the accepted answer.

It takes time not effort, but I think that's the point.


Do I understand correctly that as a relatively high-ranked you don't think it sucks, you just don't go there much any more because you don't think the questions are interesting?


I mostly use SO when an answer shows up in Google. I've only answers a very small number of questions.

Occasionally I see an answer there that is mostly right, but has one or two things that are not quite right. My first impulse is to add a comment--except I am not allowed to add comments.


As a regular SO user these were my thoughts exactly. It takes time to built reputation, just like the real world. Well thought out response, I find it upsetting someone is so quick to draw conclusions about a community which as far as I can tell is thriving. When I started SO I got the right answer and a whole lot more quicker than walking over and asking my officemate.


The situation you're describing is probably great for the askers of questions, but it's certainly not good for those of us wanting to contribute answers.

edit: That's not necessarily a bad thing, and I don't think that "StackOverflow sucks," but it does means that it sucks for new users trying to become useful contributors.


If there are already enough people who are contributing, what is the problem then? Why do you want to contribute to something if it not useless?


You criticize the OP for not liking the incentive system, but then openly admit that you don't visit the SO site much anymore because you have other priorities and don't want to play the waiting game. You're nearly saying the same thing in different ways, but you're still criticizing him.

Next, you criticize him for being narcissistic but forget to detail that the SO site is built around reputation, which is an INCENTIVE system for encouraging/discouraging participation, and thus actually encourages narcissism. After all, most people on that site are essentially working for a form of virtual currency to their personal brand. How much more narcissistic can you get? It's all about yourself, with an illusion that you're there to help others. Whenever reputation systems are in play, it's likely impossible to leave narcissism completely out of it. It would have to be anonymous, but even then, some people are still narcissistic privately.

Then, you go on to mention that the questions are less interesting to yourself (how is that not more about yourself than the posters on the site?)... I mean, the hypocrisy is thick here.

Sure, the OP is being critical of SO, but he brings up some good points. He's not really whining about not getting 1000 points after 2 posts. It's evident that he's used the site for a reasonable amount of time and then made some observations that he just can't deal with anymore.

You're obviously smart, perhaps more than most. Perhaps a more constructive reply to the OP of the article makes more sense than simply tearing him down? He makes good points, from his perspective.

I personally see the degradation of SO due to these problems. Less experienced developers can only earn reputation by knowing more than they do, because they are unable to ask repeat questions on simpler topics. Newbies still continue to do it, and thus the site is flooded with repeat questions, and more experienced users get annoyed and condescending. There is no warm culture there, and it's purely self-administrating, other than by some reputation filters. Contrast this to HN where PG and others help to continually curate the community personally and not just with software implementations.

Writing a thoughtful response takes time, and when 7-10 other people are writing thoughtful responses, don't you think that's a bit discouraging? Especially when you think the subject matter is less interesting as you have progressed?

If SO wants to grow a good community, they're going to have to make some serious changes.


Excellent reply. SO far surpasses any other programming forum when it comes to getting answers for a specific problem, and that matters so much more than how easy it is for a user to get artificial karma.


* [On forums] You'll often get no replies or useless replies (eg a bunch of people who don't understand the problem telling you that you shouldn't be doing that or asking you why) *

Actually, I have made similar experience also on SO when a question becomes a bit more special. I hate it to justify why I want to do it this way. But I was told that it's just the way it is on SO.


The thing is StackOverflow really really works. If I search Google for a programming query I nearly always find links to useful information on SO, if not the precise answer.

(I've even found my own answers via Google when I have forgotten how to do something)

That is SO's first and foremost use case. And I reiterate - it works extremely well.

The community features are secondary to that (it's not Quora), and there are thousands of users who will tell you that it is not 'impossible' to use.


I've found plenty of helpful information on StackOverflow via Google as well, but I definitely would not say that it "really really works."

I've asked two questions (C#/.NET so there's a large pool of potential answerers) and neither question ever got the answer it deserved, even though both got answers from genuine experts (Jon Skeet and Eric Lippert). I found the answer to my first question on some MSDN blog after I asked on StackOverflow, the second question is still unresolved.


Maybe my enthusiasm for the quality of StackOverflow results in Google is because I remember the pre-SO days of scrolling through experts-exchange's hideous site and fictional paywall for a low quality answer in a tiny font.


Me too; though I also thought that experts-exchange was a good idea at the time, including its concept of an economic reward system (in fact, I got a wonderfully helpful answer on that forum). Yet, it turned out to have problems, which lead to SO with an even better, karma/game mechanics reward system.

And now, some people experience problems with SO. This opens an opportunity for something even better than SO. I wonder what that would be?


Have you gone back and provided the answer to your first question? If not, then you're part of the reason that SO doesn't "really really work" in all cases.


It sounds like this guy wants to participate in StackOverflow just to be there rather than because he finds it a useful tool for his own work. I'm glad there are hurdles for people who are just there to "get a good rep" rather than there to support their real work.

A (hopefully) more common workflow would look something like this:

- a developer googles a problem, the StackOverflow answer floats to the top, and he notices this is a particularly good answer. - this keeps happening, and the developer gets impressed

then one of two things happens (or both):

- he googles a question, and finds an old question without a great answer, and adds an answer. Yes, old questions don't get as many upvotes on their answers, but they do get upvoted, and at 10 points an upvote, it doesn't take long to get to 50.

- he googles a question and doesn't find an answer, so he posts a question

Neither of these require any rep, and you only have to do it once or twice with a good question or answer to get to the magical 50 karma. And 50 karma is the only milestone that matters on StackOverflow, in my opinion.


Heh, in the time it took to create this comment, this post went from 1 comment to 15 comments, making mine less relevant, meaning I'll get fewer upvotes.

And as far as I'm concerned, gaming Hacker News to get karma is much more useful than gaming Stack Overflow. 500 karma is required to downvote, and it takes a long time to hit 500 karma.

Of course, now that I have the 500 I rarely downvote. I wish I would have known that earlier. :)

In my opinion, PG should adopt the Stack Overflow downvoting rule (you lose karma for downvoting), and lower the required threshold. It's hard to tell if downvoting is being used more for good than evil, but it's definitely used to express opinion more often than it should be.


I've been a casual via-Google user for 2 1/2 years. I have 5 answers and 2 questions with a total of 1 upvote. My rep is 11. Whenever I go to SO I go in with the mentality of not even trying to participate because anything I try will be denied.


To me, the #1 problem with Stack Overflow is the number of plain bad answers that are given and often accepted. CSS question? Here’s someone’s un-researched and invalid first guess, that doen’t work in practice. +10 karma and accepted.

Hard question? Here’s some loser’s gut feeling of “can’t be done” in exchange for +2 karma, and then a knowledgeable follow-up a day later from someone who has actually been there, done that, and figured it out.

Example: Someone with 82k karma posts a non-answer rudely telling me I should be using another technology altogether, a cheap and worthless move that earned +2 karma: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/4696128/bash-script-deter...

So often it’s apparent people are just throwing best-guess answers out there for karma, and this is hugely unhelpful. There should be a large penalty for stating incorrect guesses as fact.

It’s to the point where I instantly mistrust any answer from someone with over 10k reputation as I learned there is a good chance they are just shooting from the hip for karma.


You pointed out yourself in the comments to that answer that rsync was helpful, but that you didn't like the rude tone. The answer you accepted also agreed that you should use rsync until you edited the question to add more details. Now it's cheap and worthless?

The system seems to work. The top-voted answer is the one you accepted.


I was being generous, as rsync could be a useful suggestion to other visitors to the page, but it absolutely doesn’t answer the question that was asked. The top-voted answer, to the contrary, was edited to be genuinely helpful and an accurate answer, and deserves those upvotes. Also keep in mind that the page is getting activity because it’s linked from this discussion, so some karma changes have been triggered just now.


care to explain how he was rude and his tone off-putting? and i hope my question isn't rude ;)


It's definitely true that there are a lot of people waiting for new questions so they can pounce with a quick answer and get a few upvotes. However, there's also a large backlog of unanswered questions as well (http://stackoverflow.com/unanswered) that are very much in need of a "thoughtful, correctly documented" answer. And while it's unfortunate that legitimate brand-new users are unable to post comments, the reason behind the rep threshold was to reduce spam on the site. Commenting requires 50 reputation, or about 5 upvotes on an answer/10 upvotes on a question (both of which can be easily accomplished in an hour or two) - just high enough to deter spam.


I simply do not understand this ego thing with "points".

A million points gets you what? An award for most wasted time?

I wish HN had an option to turn off points on an account, I can't even block it with adblock because there's no element id.

There's more to life than meaningless "points".


But doesn't a million points mean that you've helped a lot of people?

When I started coding it was a certain Jon Skeet that was helping out almost everyone on the C# newsgroups including the newbie coder that was myself. I'd like to return that favour to the community and points are a close equivalent to one's helpfulness.


I think in the specific case of StackOverflow, having a lot of points is something that indicates to potential employers that you are a useful/knowledgable candidate. And it's not just a vague signifier - they can actually go and look at your answers and see what you're about.


But if I was an employer and saw someone that was really active on Stackoverflow, I'd consider the problem of them being on SO and other sites when they should be working.


I think employers who have that attitude would probably NOT even be reading stackoverflow.

In any case, one can reasonably argue that stackoverflow actually HELPS one get work done faster. Many times a thoughtful response to a pointed question saves hours of fumbling around with unclear documentation.

For the folks doing the answering, there is a strong benefit that comes from writing down some cogent prose. NOTHING solidifies expertise in a subject like helping or teaching someone else.


Some will no doubt take that view, but others the opposite.

I was actually contacted by a certain multi-national company who specializing in search and advertising off the back of my SF contributions, to suggest that I might like to apply for one of the openings they had at the time. They contacted me (rather than the other way around, I'm not even job hunting ATM) which is as exact opposite of being put off by someone's contribution to that family of sites.

If they take high rep on those sites seriously (from a beneficial view point) then I'm guessing many other companies with similar positions to fill will as well. Links to my SF and SU accounts are certainly going on my CV next time I am properly job hunting.


Yes, but quality matters almost as much as quantity. I'd rather hire somebody who got 1000 karma through 10 questions/answers than somebody who got 2000 karma through 100.

Although quantity is important too -- even if it's not a definitive answer, a partial answer is better than no answer to the questioner. It's just that when I'm hiring, those definitive answers really indicate somebody who knows what they're doing.

[edit: answering here because there are several good responses, who are all right. The most important thing to do as a potential important employer is to read a few answers rather than just blindingly accepting the karma. You can't do that for everybody, but you can do it for your shortlist.]


I'm not sure that high karma answers indicate anything other than that the candidate is answering basic questions. Correct answers to obscure or deep questions won't be trafficked as much and won't collect upboats. You should look at something else, say the answer:question karma ratio, unless you're looking for someone to answer the phones.


I would agree that quality not quantity matter, but quality as determined by votes isn't the quality I would be looking for. A high number of votes indicates several things:

The question was easy. Since a large number of people felt that they could determine the right answer and thus voted for it.

The answer was well written. Good this is what we are looking for.

The question was somewhat political. People tend to get in there and vote when they feel strongly about the answer.

The question was about something mainstream. Pretty much the same reasoning behind the is easy question. Playing a numbers game requires numbers. Answering questions about the factor programming language isn't going to net you a huge rep no matter how eloquent you are.


And they can see how much time you waste answering questions on StackOverflow rather than working.


A million points gets you what? An award for most wasted time?

Except some sites start recognizing that the work you put in on Stack Overflow actually means something about you (beyond wasting time on line). Case in point, my latest startup (http://letslunch.com) specifically recognizes HN karma and Stack Overflow karma. "because you're worth it" :-)


I wrote a greasemonkey script that removes them. See http://www.acooke.org/cute/HidingHNKa0.html

Hmmm. I wrote it for FireFox and haven't used it recently, after switching to Chrome, but it appears to install in Chrome too (oh; but the total top right is not removed - am looking into why now).

Note - it also "unhides" most greyed out comments.


You can't get to a million points on SO without learning a few things yourself.

Most of the questions I answer these days on SO are outside my areas of expertise, but I know enough to know where to look for information that can help me come up with an answer.

And even in answering noob questions you at least get practice in understanding people who don't know enough to articulate what they want and in writing clear, concise, simple answers. Both of those skills are valuable to any software developer.


Agreed. I don't get it either. Time is precious - an hour spent solving customer problems or developing customer acquisition can provide significantly more return than an hour spent answering questions in exchange for the uncertain value of "points".

Now, I can understand if you have a question you need answered having it answered in a relevant way by experts is great. And if you can help someone else, that's great. That helps float all boats. But what is the drive to collect points? I don't get the point thing. On HN either, I just don't get it.


Honestly, I find my high SO rep kind of embarrassing. I like helping people, but every time I see it, I feel like it's kind of a "needs to get a life" score.


FWIW, I know at least one person whose considerable SO karma helped them land a job (and who wrote those comments with that goal in mind). It's not all about ego.


I don't really agree here.. While I do have my own gripes with Stack Overflow, I don't think this is the biggest issue. It took me two days of casual browsing/asking/answering to get a reputation of about 50 or so and another few weeks to get into the hundreds. -- Keep in mind I'm not a super genius expert or anything, I just asked a few questions and contributed a few answers in areas I was knowledgeable about. It's not that hard.

The only major broken part (IMO) of SO is that the SE network is becoming so disjointed and your rep doesn't transfer between sites.


> The only major broken part (IMO) of SO is that the SE network is becoming so disjointed and your rep doesn't transfer between sites.

By design, I would argue. And a good decision, too.

To use a facetious example just to illustrate my point: without separate reputations, one could build up a huge reputation on http://apple.stackexchange.com/ and then use that influence over at http://askubuntu.com/ to provide a mediocre answer.

This mediocre answer could then get upvoted to the top by those who do not know a better way purely because of this user's reputation. Meanwhile the perfect answer provided by a newcomer to the SE network may remain hidden in second place.

N.B. I think the "bonus" reputation points that can be transferred are a way of addressing this imbalance while pushing people to use other SE sites at the same time.


Exactly. Reputation is supposed to illustrate your expertise. If you gain 1000 rep points in the cooking SE, does that mean that you should have 1000 rep points in the programming SE? Of course not, since your expertise is with cooking and not programming. If you were to carry across reputation from one SE to another then it would make the reputation meaningless. Instead of being an expert cook with 1000 rep points you would be an expert SE user with 1000 points that might have come from answering questions about cooking, programming Ubuntu, startsup, etc.

Now THAT would break the system.


If you have more than 200 rep on SE site A, you can associate that account with your account on SE site B and get a 100 rep bonus on site B. This lets users that are already familiar with the system comment and vote up on any site without having to have gained rep first.


Oh cool.. I didn't realize that! I have about 250 now, but haven't ventured out of SO in a while. Thanks for the tip!


Do you have to do something to enable this? I have over 200 rep on Stack Overflow, and my profile page there and on Super User both show each other under "related accounts", but on Super User I am still at 1 reputation.

Edit: I created an account on Cooking, and it gave me the linking bonus everywhere. I guess I hadn't created accounts on any Stack Exchange sites since reaching 200 rep on one of them.


I just finished writing "the only milestone that matters on StackOverflow is 50 Karma", and then you point out that 200 is useful, too. Oh well it won't take long to get 30 more karma if I want it.


>The only major broken part (IMO) of SO is that the SE network is becoming so disjointed and your rep doesn't transfer between sites.

Putting rep aside, I don't even know what all the other development-related SE sites are, let alone can be bothered to monitor them all. This means that there are interesting questions I'll never see because I only visit StackOverflow.

I don't see how people other than complete SE junkies are supposed to stay on top of this site creation and forking extravaganza. Good for them, but I don't have the energy.


You're not supposed to. They're separate sites with separate communities. Your interest in StackOverflow doesn't mean you should be keeping up with recipe questions on the Cooking StackExchange site.


I did say "development-related".


Why should it transfer? Just because you are a great software engineer(as determined by your 23K rep. on SO), doesn't mean you are a great chief and should have a 23K rep on the cooking SE.


Because at low reps they are an anti-spam measure.

If I have demonstrated I'm not a spammer by having a solid score on SO then I should be allowed to post a comment straight away on cooking.

That's the reason for the 100rep liking bonus - it's a grandfather clause


This ^

edit: I was asked a question which was perfectly answered by rtg. Should've provided more substance, but I wanted to endorse this as being exactly what I was talking about.


I asked two questions, one about C and one about Objective C. I got answers to both, relatively quickly. The answers worked.

But, in the C question, I provided some more information by adding a comment instead of editing my post. Result? Comment deleted with a snotty note. In the Objective C question, I called the language "Objective C" instead of "Objective-C". Result? My question edited to fit someone else's idea of good style: http://stackoverflow.com/posts/2669817/revisions

It's that last one that really gets me. Someone with more karma gets to put words in my mouth? And my name gets left on the edited post? Wow. Done.

I get why they allow it, they want the site to be more searchable. And in a way I'm glad, because I get a lot from reading answers to things other people ask, but I will never again write anything there myself.


Clarity is a good thing, and uniformity and standards definitely help with that. Looking at the revision page you linked, I don't see anything there that's offensive. I may have made similar edits myself had I seen it (at least, if it were a question in an area I'm familiar with).

Keep in mind that StackOverflow isn't just about answering your question; it's about providing a large searchable knowledge-base so others with similar questions can easily find ready-made answers.

Like it or not, collaborative editing of this kind is a cornerstone of the site, and is explicitly addressed as part of the FAQ[1].

[1] http://stackoverflow.com/faq#editing


Clarity from changing "Objective C" to "Objective-C", whatever. The rest of the changes didn't add clarity, they were totally stylistic.

People are not computers, and we're touchy about stuff we write. If you want to add a tag to my question to make it more searchable, fine. If you want to let me know I have a typo, or used the wrong word or something, whatever. Just editing someone's question, especially for subjective writing style, comes across as rude.

If it's not supposed to, or if the rest of that community doesn't mind, I'm happy for them. But it's not for me, and it's not for a lot of other people either. So, I agree with the OP.


FWIW, I agree with you here. The other style changes were pointless (the "If I'm.." to "For example, if I'm.." nonsense). You can always roll back a change to your own question though. In the editor's defence, a lot of low-rep users post really unreadable questions. Maybe he saw you had less than a few hundred points and got a bit trigger happy.


I would roll it back, if I cared at all about the site. This all happened about a year ago, I'm only pointing it out now because it's relevant to this thread.

It's a really poorly-thought-out feature: new users who can't write coherently get taught that they don't have to, because someone will come along and fix it for them; new users who can write are more likely to be annoyed by other people playing copyeditor on their posts. Guess which group sticks around?


Stack Overflow is a wiki — that's part of its design. If you're so attached to your words that this pains you, then a wiki site really isn't a good fit for you. But that's a matter of your personal idiosyncrasies, not a problem with Stack Overflow.

But just to be clear: When somebody edits your post, it's noted on the post and anybody who's curious can click to see what they changed. They are not "putting words in your mouth." They are cleaning up the question so it is more useful to others (and will get you better answers as a bonus).


Not worth quitting over. Editing of others' posts is part of the culture and almost never an attack.


That's exactly why it is worth quitting over: I don't want to be part of a culture where that's normal.


I edit articles on Wikipedia just to correct grammar and spelling. Are you offended by that, too?


If you disagree with an edit - you can roll it back.


"Rep grinds" (see how MMO-speak has influenced us?) on non-gaming web sites may be becoming the norm. You grind out some rep, and get privileges based on that rep. One can argue that this serves as an effective barrier to keep out would-be posters of bad content and discussion, but as we can see it also screws with "legit" posters. Determined individuals will figure out how to work the game to their advantage, both for good and bad.


What game and what advantage? It's a Q/A site. The only way you are going to game the system is if you ask clearly delineated questions and provide thoughtful and clear answers.


A few techniques:

Form a cabal of vote sharers, who always vote for each other's posts. Post a bunch of semi-plausible content once a day and you'll have tons of karma in no time.

Post quick responses that have little insight. You'll always get votes for being first.

Post LOTS of trivial questions. More people will upvote than will downvote on the whole.


All the things you mentioned requires a lot of effort. In fact it's more effort than just actually providing one or two good answers and questions a day. Also, I have never seen any of the popular answers get answers that are not really close to the mark. Even the unpopular ones always get good answers that float to the top. Organizing a cabal of voters and then monitoring new questions within your area of expertise just so you can post semi-plausible answers to move up the ranks is borderline psychotic and I have yet to encounter these people on SO.


Personally I haven't gotten involved in SO precisely because of this. I don't feel the prize is worth the amount of effort that I'd put into playing the game.

However, plenty of people do feel that it's worth it, and certainly the barrier to entry keeps out (some of) the griefers that inevitably show up in online communities.


The prize is the satisfaction you get from helping other people with a great answer. The reputation is window dressing. If you think of rep as the end goal, then of course it is not worth your time. If you enjoy answering people's questions, then it probably is worth your time.


There are a lot of social things to do on the web, and probably I should be doing less of them and more real work

For me, participating on SO is like the Weather Channel. I've got another other things I could be doing rather than waiting for "Weather on the 8s" to come around.


I've never seen stackoverflow as a race to get the most rep possible. Reputation is just a "bonus", not a prerequisite to participate in the website. I like stackoverflow the way it is


During the development of Stack Overflow, Joel and Jeff talked about the answers staying up-to-date in a wiki-like fashion. I think what the author means is that in order to participate in this - i.e. edit and improve an existing answer - you have to have a certain amount of rep.

It's quite likely that a user Googling for their particular issue might find an incomplete or out-of-date answer on Stack Overflow. When they finally solve it they are unable to improve the existing entry, which is unfortunate as for many "long tail" problems they are best placed to contribute.


This used to be true, but there's a feature currently in testing that will allow anyone (even someone coming from Google) to propose an edit to a post. This edit proposal can be approved either by a moderator or several users with sufficient rep. Hopefully this will make Stack Overflow more wiki-like and help solve the problem with answers getting out of date.


This sounds similar to how Discogs has implemented quality ratings (via votes) for arbitrarily edited content, in between full editorial control and open wiki.


That sounds like a great idea to me


I think thats a big problem with the "accepted answer"

Firstly it's accepted by the questioner - who by definition knows the least about the subject, otherwise they wouldn't be asking!

Even if it is correct and well written - then it stays accepted years later when it's no longer the best way to do something.


The temporal nature of best practices is my biggest complaint with how SO works. It works great for relatively static subjects, but its useless for fast moving technology targets due to the community resistance of duplicate questions.


I have 170 rep and I don't know how I've gotten that much since I rarely post on StackOverflow. It's really easy to gain rep if you participate with the best answer you can give, instead of trying to post lots of less-elaborate answers just to have a bigger audience.


yeah, but that's not what the author is complaining about. the problem is that stackoverflow has reputation barriers for performing various actions, so until you acquire some rep, your site experience is pretty broken. this is well and good if you intend to put some effort into building up reputation so that you can participate fully, but it works against someone who uses the site casually but who has useful things to say.


I think the idea is to build a community - in order to use SO as more than a Google scrape you need to put in some work and become involved. Then you are more likely to go back and add answers yourself - so you contribute to the collective.


"someone who uses the site casually but who has useful things to say." will quickly get a lot more than 50 karma, so it doesn't really work against them at all.


I totally disagree with this blog posting, but here's a situation that I feel SO could do better.

I wish there were a feature whereby as a question-asker, you could say "I've dutifully read all the provided responses, and none of them answers my question. Marking this as 'unsolved'".

And then the "unsolved" questions would not count against your percentage in "accept rate". When new answers come in, you'd need to go back and re-evaluate whether or not the new responses answer your question or not.

The original idea of publishing askers' accept ratio is to encourage people to "give credit where credit is due". But it also has the unfortunate side effect of encouraging people to accept sub-par answers at times.

Apart from that I love the site, and hope Jeff makes a bundle (or at least a happy existence) from it.


"So if you’re knowledgeable enough to provide a counterpoint to someone else’s poor answer, you have to post it as a new answer… and then you get down voted (lose rep!) for adding a new answer versus just commenting on the original, flawed answer."

Never happened to me. Sometimes I even noticed that the author had deleted the original wrong answer and left a positive comment on mine.


Yep, also if you just have 1 reputation getting downvoted doesn't cost you anything, you stay at 1. So it doesn't hurt in the least even if this did occur, which I haven't seen myself, either. I often see that SO users will be helpful to new users who seem to be trying to be helpful.


"Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."


That's why I try to avoid StackOverflow as much as possible when I can ask my question on a smaller StackExchange site such as http://askubuntu.com or http://programmers.stackexchange.com. The quality of answers on smaller SE sites is usually 10x higher.


Rep whoring? Q&A sites are there to help out not to give you points and stroke your ego.

I think if SO is hindering you into getting a good rep, probably you don't have enough domain knowledge.

PS: I've been there since the beginning and I still got 114 rep. I love the place because it has gotten me solutions at times without even asking.


I agree. I enjoy that you get answered so quickly and if you are rep whore, you can just ask good questions, they get up-voted and you get points. But I really don't see any point, it's a serious Q&A site.


While I actually can empathize with the author on wanting to help out, he's really making stackoverflow sound awesome - knowledgeable people are falling all over themselves to answer your question, and don't worry about being a freeloader, they already have too much free labor going into the answers.


Please stop saying that StackOverflow is 'broke.' The word you're looking for is broken. StackOverflow's overflowing stack of cash is doing quite well, actually.

Other than that admittedly nitpicky detail, the article is accurate and provides insight on a problem that I, too, have experienced. However, I don't think that StackOverflow is broken, I just think it's overcrowded. And for a question-and-answer style website, isn't that a good thing?


A lot of people are dogging acconrad, but I have to agree with him. I was having a problem with rails, and I found the answer on stackoverflow. The right answer had no upvotes, so I figured I would upvote it; this way the original "asker" would know it is the right answer. However, it said I didn't have enough rep to upvote... I'm sure he'll figure it out but this would save him from checking the other "solutions".


This is to prevent "voting rings" using new accounts. It is a small measure of activity. All it would have taken from you was 15 rep,

1 Upvoted Answer (+10) and 1 Upvoted Question (+5) or 1 Question Upvoted (3 times) (+15) or 3 Upvoted Questions (+15)

(It is actually 14, since you start off with 1 rep)

That is really not a lot of activity/work needed from an individual.

Most likely a next user would have seen the answer on rails and voted by now.


The weird thing is how it doesn't tell you that you can't upvote until you try to do it.


It tells you in the FAQ. http://stackoverflow.com/faq#reputation


I meant that it is surprising that they don't hide the controls that you can't use.


Hey, let’s all downvote alexsherrick and tell him he’s an idiot for not understanding site policy instead of recognizing that he is pointing out an undesirable effect of that policy!


Is Stack Overflow a game in which the goal is to get the most reputation and badges?

Or are you using it as a tool to discover solutions to programming problems?

Or Both?


Any community where you get "points" of any kind becomes a game, which eventually becomes more important than the community itself.


I completely disagree with both the premise and conclusion of this blog post.

I'm a complete coding noob (http://www.7bks.com/blog/179001) and along the way to learning programming have relied on StackOverflow for about 10 questions.

For every single one I have received complete, thorough, helpful and patient answers. In short, I could not be happier with SO. As a beginner it's been a phenomenal resource both for searching and for answering specific issues.

The post makes the point that newbies can't answer questions - and for me this is one of the reasons the quality of the site is so high. If you let anyone answer then you don't know how good quality the response is. As a beginner how am I to know if a given answer is correct?

Of course, any community site still has problems like this and SO is not immune to it but IMHO this is one of the ways they keep the quality bar higher than any other Q&A platform out there.


"but you quickly realize that every question that’s not some vague, poorly worded, open ended impossibility has already got 10 answers"

Exactly :) Stackoverflow has built-in breaks to control growth. Maybe HN could benefit from this ;)


I agree 100%. I was in SO early (the beta) and still encountered this. Not only that, but a quick/early bad answer would tend to do better long-term than a later but correct answer.

Given this (and I'm no stranger to accumulating high levels of karma/followers/whatever by natural participation on sites) I only use Stack Overflow as a user now and rarely answer anything. It works great for that and I can sift through the answers and pick the one that works best while ignoring the score. It's clearly not for me in terms of participating fully but I can live with that.


I would encourage anyone who is interested about the thinking behind Stack Overflow, reputation, money, question and answer sites, badges, commenting, wiki, etc, to go back and listen to the early Stack Overflow podcasts. You will get an hour by hour insight into their thinking behind certain features of the site and will see that there are some very good reasons (and to be honest, some not) for some things being the way they are.

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/category/podcasts/


Or you could just ask questions. I don't write too many answers on Stack Overflow either but I usually do get a good answer to my programming/Ubuntu issues.

I would actually argue that Stack Overflow works great. This article is an excellent example of how their badge system creates a strong desire in their user-base to contribute answers to and participate in the site. Maybe I'm just weird because I could care less about karma and just want to get my questions answered (by the karma obsessed trolling the new questions list :).


Is rep important enough to warrant a blog post complaining you cant get enough?

Man, money is too hard to get. I wish this damned CEO wasn't getting a 600k salary + bonuses. Blog post upcoming.


He's not complaining that he can't get enough rep, he's complaining that he can't contribute without it.


You are concerning yourself with increasing a meaningless stored value on a website on the internet that, chances are, you'll move on from in a relatively short period of time. Take a second to think about that. That applies to here and all other social-voting websites. It's an unnecessary worry. Focus on things that matter.


Who cares?

If I hit a wall while working on a problem, I toss into the gladiator pit known as Stack Overflow, and after it has been mawed to pieces by a bunch of brilliant people, I stop by and get my answer and can continue whatever I was doing. Usually this all happens in the time it takes for me to get some coffee and maybe take a short walk.

It is a beacon of hope and joy to someone who has wasted too much time in the past trying to find the answers to hard problems.

So they are at each-others' throats trying to out answer other users so they can increment up a point counter. Gamefication is a great motivator, and I am happy that I don't have to use the typical motivators of begging, pleading, or -ugh- paying for quality technical support.

Emotional reactions to the competitiveness is the success of a very well designed game that has the outcome of great answers to problems that are typically hard to find.


I think the poster makes a good point. In the early days of SO, as in any QA site, there were a surplus of questions and a dearth of answers. It would've been suicidal to obstruct people from providing answers, so the bar was set low there. Comments on the other hand are less valuable early on, so there was no reason to encourage them.

Fast forward to today, and now there are a critical mass of people willing---even eager---to answer questions, so that every new question has a surplus of answers, many of them wrong. SO might well improve their signal/noise ratio by reversing their policy and requiring higher karma for answers than they do for commenting. As the poster points out, a newb is unlikely to come up with an answer not already posted, but nonetheless might have some unique experience or insight on that answer that could be helpful.


I went through a short period where I really cared about what my profile looked like there. I don't know why I ever felt that way. I think my top voted answer is telling someone what I thought important concepts in C to communicate to students are. I don't think that says anything about me positive or negative to be honest.

If you look around the top contributors to the python tag you'll realize there is a lot of room for people to submit good, thoughtful answers. If you take the time to write something good then it will get voted up and if that's what you want you'll be all set.

It seems like no worse of a way to spend your time than anything save perhaps reading a good technical book and let's face it there aren't very many of those.


The other bad thing about SO is that when a question has some answers, even if they are not really right, nobody really pays attention to the question anymore.

So it feels like questions that move down in the queue with a few proposed answers are basically dead.


Headline is misleading - the real complaint isn't that participating is impossible, it's that reputation is hard to earn. In SO's nascent days, you could earn rep simply by showing up and answering questions. Now that it's popular, if you want to gain rep, you have to muscle your way in using methods like the author describes.

I find it amusing that SO's creators chose the term "reputation" for their participation points, as opposed to "karma" or something else, because in this aspect it's pretty similar to real-life reputation. When supply is high, it's hard to gain reputation without gaming the system. That's not SO, that's life.


Am I the only person that doesn't get this whole Stack / Quora thing? Why does anyone care about points?

Don't get me wrong - I love the fact that there's a place I can go to ask a question and get it answered by knowledgeable people. But what does that have to do with points? If people want to help each other, then great. If not, then don't.

Newsgroups used to fill this role quite well without points, but came with all sorts of negatives (as detailed above). The benefit of the Stack / Quora stuff is that you don't have to wade through irrelevant stuff to find what you need. but points?


The voting is a crude proxy for correctness. I say crude because sometimes the first few answers get way too many votes for simply being the first but over time the correct answers float to the top.


The information on Stack Overflow is fantastic, but I just don't want to be a leach. And contributing something useful is challenging. Maybe I just don't have anything wonderful enough to say.


I'd like to point out that while I definitely did not write this post, I did feel it easy to relate, because it seems hard at this point to gain reputation without gaming the system a bit. But there are so many ways to get involved...I think the best seems to be being knowledgeable in a very specific area of expertise - answering C# questions is really tough, but if you know Heroku, there are so many more questions there without answers that you can really gobble up quite a bit of reputation by knowing something niche.


All the while one does not / is not able to answer questions, he can learn from the answers that have already been submitted, no reputation gained but knowledge (I have heard people compiling e-books on the best posts from Stackoverflow). I call that a step forward.


This post appears to be written from the perspective that the goal of Stack Overflow is to gain points, when I believe the goal of Stack Overflow is to answer questions.


Stack-overflow is amazingly effective, especially when one considers the alternatives like those countless forgettable websites heavily laden with front-and-center ads, and the ones that have nag screens that block responses to answers until you "sign up", and the ones with clueless dilettantes fumbling in the dark.

My only concern is that I think the exchange community might get fractured/diluted if there are too many separate stack exchange sites.


I've never liked karma systems.

On the surface it seems to make sense: People who are helpful/insightful get lots of karma. In practice, it fails on two fronts:

First, karma systems in and of themselves work based on popularity, under the mistaken idea that popularity = correctness/insightfulness/suitability. Quite often, the most insightful or thought provoking ideas are unpopular (or speaking the truth is unpopular). What you get is a system that automatically filters out the ideas that the majority are unconfortable with, and so you end up with an echo chamber which doesn't admit new ideas.

Second, the policies formed around the karma system grow biased AGAINST new users over time, which leads to community stagnation:

The initial couple of years are great. The early adopters are all eager to participate in meaningful ways, and build a thriving, vibrant community.

Then the gamers join in. They learn how to game the system to gain points. They do this just to show that they can. Closely related, the karma whores move in. Their sole goal is to gain points for self-worth. The community is meaningless; points are everything.

As the gamer's techniques become more widly known, the spammers move in, automating the techniques to promote their spam, and the cat-and-mouse game begins, usually at the expense of making things more difficult for the users. These measures are almost always done with consideration of the already established user base, using them to determine what a "normal, real" user is like.

Once you hit this point, it starts to become prohibitively expensive for a new user to join in, thanks to the biased notion of a "normal user". Stack Overflow is a prime example of this, where you have to jump through all sorts of crazy hoops just to be able to even comment or gasp edit your own question because upon re-reading, you decide it's not as clear as it could be.

And so you complain. But people don't like complainers, so they all jump on you and say "It's not so bad! I went through the red tape and so should you!" and "If you don't like the red tape, there's no place for you here!"

There's a word for this: Bureaucracy.

As a service provider, you should be doing everything in your power to make things MORE accessible to new users, not LESS accessible. You should be ENCOURAGING participation, not throwing hurdles in their way. New users are fickle. Their first experience on your site will largely shape their perception of it forever. Start them off with a bad experience and they'll refuse to participate. Rampant bureaucracy is a sign of severe failure in the system.


The right question is as important as the right answer.

The easiest entry is to ask a good question. The next time you run into a poorly documented problem, do some research, and eventually work out an answer, reformulate it as the question you wish Stack Overflow contained and ask it. You can always comment on things in your own question so you can guide the answers if they are going wrong.

• Two question up votes and you can vote things up.

• Five and you can comment anywhere


Or you can just answer your own question, which is completely acceptable behavior in SO.


SO is optimized for askers, not for answerers and intentionally so! The whole goal of the website is to make asking questions simple, finding related questions (reasonably) simple, and getting good answers quickly. As you can see from profiles of some users, some people exchanged their books for SO (why look it up - just ask). True, the rep game is a tough one, but so is life, so get over it.


In this article you say that you are <strike>a pretty and smart</strike> "a pretty smart guy". Then you are definitely welcome at SO.

NOT participating in SO is neither a solution to your problem nor a decision that a pretty smart guy would take.

Give it a shot buddy! and I am sure you will NOT write an article about how awesome SO is because you won't find the words to describe SO awesomeness.


"Impossible" seems exaggerated. Somehow, in an article decrying rep-whoring, the OP decided that title-whoring was OK.


I thought the same thing when I joined SO a few months ago, and agreed with a lot of what was written in the blog post.

But, then I decided to give SO another chance just now. I posted two answers and in ten minutes got enough upvotes to get me out of the 15-rep new-user jail.

So consider my mind changed and I don't see what the big problem is, now.


> Edit: closing comments since I’m tired of moderating (and I didn’t delete any but the obvious spam). Thanks for letting me vent.

It is ironic to hear it from a guy who complains that he can't comment without enough reputation points on a site visited by millions.


I believe SO is designed so that new users ask questions. Then after getting a few rep points from questions they can contribute back with answers or comments (my preferred input).


I Disagree badly... It's a wonderful environment for developers. I personnaly love it and I only have 101 points. that doesn't keep me from doing a thing there.

Really bad, bad article.


Do programming language designers look for repetetive questions on SO and improve their languages so those questions wont come up in future?


Maybe not from his perspective, but from the perspective of those asking questions and looking for answers, it works pretty well.


I frequent the sister site Super User, I had no problem in getting rep points, so far I am at over 8K in less than 8 months. No these are not forums and you will be berated for not following the proper order of things. If you can't compete stay off the site, its not for everybody like a forum is.


Any Q&A site that discourages potentially useful answers is doing it wrong.

As it happens, I've come up with an algorithm that would solve the most common problems with Q&A sites (included the ones cited in this article) and am in the process of building a prototype.


Why not to try a new site for programmers http://tagmask.com. It provides the ability to filter out content according your preferences and looks really good. Have you checked it out?


What a terrible article. I'm sorry for the rant, but this really pissed me off.

Admittedly, I don't participate in StackOverflow that much right now - I sort of go through an ebb and flow where I get really gung ho about answering questions, then it sort of wears off for a while - but this guy sounds a lot like he wants to game the system, and is only in it for the points.

I'm not trying to put words in Jeff/Joel's mouth, but I think the "answer before you comment" system is constructed the way it is so that noise can be reduced. By that, I mean that the system wants you to actually contribute something to the site to get used to how it works before you can "join the discussion". Comments aren't downvotable, presumably because they don't want to silence dissenting opinions in a discussion, and the average comment doesn't get upvoted at all. If anyone could just walk in off the street and leave a comment, you would end up with a bunch of "YouTube comments" being left by random passersby.

For a newbie, your only way to contribute to a question is to write an answer. Answering has a different social contract than does commenting. When you answer a question, you are expected to provide, well, an answer! If your answer is incorrect, then it will be downvoted to distinguish good information from misinformation. Downvoting is a way of saying "this content is harmful", and this is a perfectly valid response to a bad answer, but not a valid response to a bad opinion (i.e. a comment you disagree with).

If the OP provided answers on StackOverflow and was downvoted, then his answer most likely was simply wrong. I haven't seen many, if any, correct answers with negative scores on StackOverflow. The system tends to be fairly self-correcting in that respect. If someone is downvoted wrongly, there is more often than not another user who will upvote the answer back to zero. If the OP is simply lamenting that he isn't receiving upvotes (in contrast to the idea that he's being downvoted, which is a separate concept), then maybe his answer simply isn't as good as he thinks it is, and the "flawed answer" he wants to comment on simply isn't that flawed.

If the flawed answer is indeed flawed, then there is no harm in adding a new answer. Simply write your own detailed answer and include evidence explicitly proving that the current top voted answer is incorrect. When you post an answer, the site will kick the question back to the front page of the site, so you should get the opportunity for your "correct" answer to get exposure, and if it's any good, it should get upvotes.

What I take the most issue with in this article, however, is the OP's lament that any question he wants to answer is already answered. That's the whole point of the site! If the question is already answered, then the system is working. The site doesn't exist for answerers to get points; it exists for askers to get answers to their questions. If a question gets a lot of responses, that is a Good Thing.

Now, OP used to have a valid point about having a lot of "in progress" answers being posted. This was the so-called "Fastest Gun in the West" problem, and was solved by modifying the site to display same-scored answers in a randomized order. At this point, an "in progress" answer which doesn't yet provide enough value shouldn't have any upvotes, and therefore a new answer would have the same opportunity to be viewed as that answer. If you get your answer into a steady-state first, then you will get upvotes and you will get views. If someone else does, and gets upvoted, then at least the asker will get a proper answer to their question. If you're complaining about other people giving "minimum viable answers" which nonetheless help the asker, then you're probably just "rep whoring".

For my part, I tend to answer questions in the same way. I'll quickly add an answer which provides a technically correct answer that at least gives the asker enough to finish the answer on their own (for example, "This can be accomplished using the some_function function" is enough of a hint that it's useful - the asker can look up the some_function documentation and learn for themselves). Once that answer is in place, I'll go back and edit the answer to include links to the documentation (I'll usually save at this point), then add a thorough explanation of how the answer works and how to use it.

I've been commended by askers and other users for my in-depth answers to questions, and I've even beaten the "horde of already submitted answers" due to my quality. O a few occasions, I've come to a question that already had 5+ answers with "minimal correct answers", some of which have upvotes, and have written an answer with a lot of detail which ended up either the highest voted, or accepted by the asker (or both).

Basically what I'm saying is that if you're only trying to be a "rep whore" then yes, the system is against you, but that's a Good Thing. If you're in it to actually help people, then taking the time to write a detailed, quality answer is the best way to go, and it'll often net you points to boot.


AgentConundrum, I just recognized your name from an incorrect answer you provided on StackOverflow that nevertheless was accepted (http://stackoverflow.com/questions/4435906/print-when-textar...). You made assumptions and then adopted your self-confessed strategy of “quickly add[ing] an answer which …gives the asker enough to finish the answer on their own,” but failed to understand the problem inherent in the question. You seem to be “rep whoring” and part of the problem on Stack Overflow. How dare you just write a wall of text to dismiss as “terrible” someone’s critique of SO.


You actually have a fair point, though you've phrased it in a needlessly combative fashion.

You are correct that the answer you linked really wasn't one of my best. I suppose that answer is a good example of failing to see the forest for the trees (rather, I didn't see "the trees for the forest" in this case).

When I read that question, I interpreted it incorrectly as being an issue where the textarea was formatted specifically for the screen, but that needed to be resized for printing. I then generalized the problem to "print styles" in general and gave an answer to that.

I went through a period in Nov./Dec. where I spent a lot of time answering questions on SO. I gained somewhere around 2000 rep in that time from my answers. Other than the question you linked, I was only downvoted on one question, but I deleted that answer when I discovered that I was wrong (specifically, I misinterpreted an svn feature I've never used, and my answer appeared to work on my single-user repository).

My point is that I actually take/took pride in crafting an answer which explains exactly what's going on, and how to fix it. Really, I don't care about gaining reputation on StackOverflow, and I'm offended by the accusation that I'm a "rep whore" when all I've ever tried to do is help folks, and I try to go "above and beyond" with my answers to make sure the asker is clear on what's going on. If I dropped the ball on this question, I'm sorry (since you seem to take this question personally), but I think it's more an outlier than the norm.


Well then why don't you provide the correct answer with the right assumptions?


I did, you should have checked. I even made a public test-case to illustrate why naïve solutions don’t work: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/105727/web/print_textarea.html Edited to avoid sarcasm


I downvoted you for being sarcastic, and because I was discouraged by the tone you used in this SO comment:

  Gordon, you downvoted my answer and left a misleading comment because you
  assumed that a user wouldn't edit the textarea? For shame. Your solution is
  not "pure CSS" but rather uses PHP to duplicate a textarea and then
  hopes that the user doesn't its content before printing.
Please chill out, dude. There is absolutely no reason for a discussion involving Javascript and print stylesheets to require usage of the term "For shame."

To phrase it differently: Try to avoid being the guy from this Xkcd. http://xkcd.com/386/


Fair enough. Sometimes I do feel like that guy.


It's OK. We're all that guy sometimes. All we can do is watch out for it and adjust accordingly.


Sorry about that. I've checked now. I even up voted your answer because it deserves at least one up vote. But I would say that perhaps your overall SO experience would be better if your comments on SO were less abrasive. Your answer might have been "right" based on your assumptions (i.e. the user has JavaScript enable in the browser) but it might not have been right if some other assumptions were made.


"The point system is all wrong!"

Epic fail at life.


There is nothing sucky about the stackexchange sites. They are designed to be useful and growing repositories of frequent question and answers. The whole rep/voting thing is just a gaming layer on top to make the process of participation a little more fun but if you just focus on the gaming aspect and take it way too seriously like this guy then you miss out completely.


While it may seem like just a gaming aspect, there are a lot of benefits as you gain more reputation on the site. Unlike many "points systems", SE actually allows you to become essentially a moderator of the site as you gain reputation. Once you've hit a certain mark you can edit, close, delete, etc. I think it's brilliant.


The old forums had the same system so there is nothing new or brilliant going on here, the stackexchange sites just measure things in terms of reputation/votes and the old forums did something similar with posts/replies. The only innovation I see is the automation of how promotion happens in terms of votes/rep.


In other words ... the autopromotion happens to people who provide quality contributions rather than those who add to the noise?

And you don't see how that's significantly better?


No matter what others say, but SO is awesome. I have got nearly instant responses. Only once I had to pay someone on freelancer to solve my jquery issue. It is like having SO community helping me in my development.

I know it is tempting to gain reputation points by answering simple questions.

Simple questions will have tons of responses. Instead try to pick the tough ones and answer them.


Why <noun> sucks, and <false hyperbole>




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