Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
StackOverflow (codebetter.com)
212 points by Garbage on Mar 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 185 comments



Co-founder of Stack Overflow, here.

A lot of the people who were involved in some way in Experts-Exchange don't understand Stack Overflow.

The basic value flow of EE is that "experts" provide valuable "answers" for novices with questions. In that equation there's one person asking a question and one person writing an answer.

Stack Overflow recognizes that for every person who asks a question, 100 - 10,000 people will type that same question into Google and find an answer that has already been written. In our equation, we are a community of people writing answers that will be read by hundreds or thousands of people. Ours is a project more like wikipedia -- collaboratively creating a resource for the Internet at large.

Because that resource is provided by the community, it belongs to the community. That's why our data is freely available and licensed under creative commons. We did this specifically because of the negative experience we had with EE taking a community-generated resource and deciding to slap a paywall around it.

The attitude of many EE contributors, like Greg Young who calculates that he "worked" for half a year for free, is not shared by the 60,000 people who write answers on SO every month. When you talk to them you realize that on Stack Overflow, answering questions is about learning. It's about creating a permanent artifact to make the Internet better. It's about helping someone solve a problem in five minutes that would have taken them hours to solve on their own. It's not about working for free.

As soon as EE introduced the concept of money they forced everybody to think of their work on EE as just that -- work.


Joel, I think you have the right product and are sincere about this, but I believe Greg Young, the author of the article, brought up a few good points. I read the article and one analogy quickly came to my mind. EE was like AltaVista/Lycos/Infoseek, and Stack Overflow is like the younger version of Google.

+ The latter is clearly superior in technology (or content) to the other.

+ The latter makes user happy by giving them real value, whereas the former focused on milking the users for revenue.

+ The latter made promises to the users (Google: "don't be evil", SO: "contents are the community's property") and the users liked it.

+ Last but not least, "the competition is only a click away" (Google). "You can start a SO competitor in a heartbeat" (SO).

So far so good. But guess what happened to Google? They got good. They got big. They were no longer satisifed with being the king of search. They started Plus. They started saying "If you don't want people to know what you do, you shouldn't do that anyway". They now want your data to be shared among their properties and you cannot opt out. They got jealous of Apple. They got freaked out by Facebook.

I don't doubt Google started with a conscience, and a genuine focus to build a better search engine. They succeeded. Wildly. But except for the most hard-core Google believers, I doubt that many people still trust their "Don't be evil" mantra in its absolute. Frankly, do people even say that with a straight face outside of comparison with Microsoft?

I love SO and believe in the integrity of Joel and Jeff and others. You guys really rock. But time will change. Tide will change. A tidepool that is fun for little kids could become a fatal trap the very next day (sadly, this happens often). So please keep the warning in mind.


> Frankly, do people even say that with a straight face outside of comparison with Microsoft?

This week we saw a story in which YouTube (a Google subsidiary) took away a guy's ad revenue because they claimed that someone else had the copyright on random birdsong. http://boingboing.net/2012/02/27/rumblefish-claims-to-own-co...

Do people still say "google aren't evil" with a straight face inside of comparison with Microsoft these days? I'm curious what Microsoft has done that compares in, say, the last year.

It's not 1999 any more - the biggest company in the world is is Apple ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/aug/09/apple-pips-ex... ) , Oracle owns Java and bundles crapware browser toolbars with the download, and Facebook and Google, not Microsoft, are totally dominant in their markets despite Microsoft's efforts. And if you're looking for a company with really crappy practices, there's always Paypal/ebay http://www.regretsy.com/2012/01/03/from-the-mailbag-27/


That's not evil. Youtube is at the mercy of "big content " and they have to comply with copyright claims. They're not in the business of judging whether a something can be copyrighted - that's a job for the courts.


Well, I disagree. it is evil.

The argument they "have to comply" due to third parties and presumption-of-infringement laws may be true. If it is, that is beside the point; that doesn't make it a good action.


If you consider content removal evil, I think you need to get your moral compass re-calibrated. There are numerous adjectives that could describe that specific situation, like stupid or even lazy, but evil is a stretch.

When the Feds can come kick your doors down and haul your servers out for non-compliance, what choice do you have? Not to say Google is good either, but the content mess isn't really their making. In fact, their technology has helped more than hindered the spread of content.


> If you consider content removal evil, I think you need to get your moral compass re-calibrated.

That's not what I consider in general, and I don't know how you came up with that reading. I agree that it's not the worst action ever in the history of evil (and most was just stupid), but you're not even arguing the right point: the content was not removed, it was a case of automated copyright abuse for profit:

> "Youtube informed me that I was using Rumblefish’s copyrighted content, and so ads would be placed on my video, with the proceeds going to said company" http://c4sif.org/2012/02/youtube-identifies-birdsong-as-copy...


First, why is Youtube evil? Wasn't the company that abused?

Second, how is Youtube evil for doing whatever they want with the ads in their own website? Sure, they claimed it was due to copyright reasons, but that doesn't make the action in itself "evil".

Google has done a lot of crap, from the obvious privacy problems to outright fraud in Kenya. Picking on that seems ridiculous.


> First, why is Youtube evil?

Youtube decided to enter into this agreement with Rumblefish. If Youtube outsouces this abuse, does that put Youtube in the clear? See also: US Army outsourcing to Blackwater, etc. It's too easy to avoid responsibility this way.


OK, but there wasn't actually any abuse. Youtube owns the site. Putting ads on some page and giving part of the proceeds to any company they want is completely within their rights.

Is Reddit evil because they don't share the ad income from a particular thread with the submitter? Doesn't make much sense to me.


If reddit offered you ad income (and there are people who make a living off making youtube videos), then took it away arbitrarily and gave the income instead to a big company that claimed copyright over random bits of birdsong, without any appeal process, then that would be at best broken and at worst abusive, yes. Also, not much sense either.


Youtube only offers you ad income if you register (and are accepted) with their Partner Program, not to any random user. The uploader said and so ads would be placed on my video, which means there weren't any ads before, which means he wasn't offered any ad income. They took nothing away from her/him.

The only thing YT did was:

1. Add ads to a video hosted on their website

2. Take part of their ad income and give it to some company

I fail to see what exactly is evil about this.


Falsely asserting copyright over bits of nature is OK for you then?


That was Rumblefish, not Youtube. Youtube was a victim of that, since they could've made more money by simply putting the ads and not sharing them with Rumblefish.



Why downvote this? It's a valid comment. A 'good' action would be for Google to revoke Rumblefish's takedown ability, and force them to use a real DMCA request. At least that would allow for legal recourse when Rumblefish commits fraud.


If you really want to debate if this was evil or not (and if it becomes less evil if you outsource it, pass the buck or bend over to big content) then there was a HackerNews discussion (Maybe two or three...) on this topic. People trotted out their apologies there for this unacceptable action, so I'm sure there are good rebuttals there.

The basic question that I asked was: Why is MS held to a different standard to the big guys of the internet (chiefly Apple, Facebook, Google, Oracle, paypal/ebay)? What recent actions do we have to compare them on?


The basic question that I asked was: Why is MS held to a different standard to the big guys of the internet (chiefly Apple, Facebook, Google, Oracle, paypal/ebay)? What recent actions do we have to compare them on?

Why does it have to be recent? Should we just whitewash the past? It was ten years ago, not in the 19th century. They even have the same CEO.

But in any case, they're still extorting companies using their grotesque FAT patents.


What about the secure boot story http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2012/01/microsoft-manda...

That's recent and it is evil. Microsoft never was completely evil they just put the mighty dollar above everything else including software quality.


Good answer, thanks.

I agree that MS is profit-driven. I just don't see how that puts them on a different plane from Facebook, Google, Apple, Oracle, Paypal et al.


If Google sells ads to me, or my personal information that I gave them down the road, then that affects me.

If Microsoft uses their power to force future hardware to be unable to boot linux / other FOSS OSes, then that affects me WAY MORE.

So much more that I consider such actions to be on a different plane.


Google and Apple are both involved in OS and hardware. Their locking decisions could be comparable, i.e. on the same plane.


You want Google to be sued into oblivion and have its executives possibly jailed for criminal copyright infringement because you judge compliance with applicable laws to be evil?


That's not what I said. There are many other options, no need to bring your false dichotomy and straw-man scenario into it.


Actually, it's exactly what you said, whether you know it or not. Google's action was dictated by US law. If you have some magical way for a US company run by US citizens residing in the US to get around US law, I'm sure we'd all be interested to hear it.


You're a laywer as well as the development and operations that your profile mentions?

Funny thing, I thought that the DMCA was the legal path. This was not used. And this alarms some lawyers: http://waxy.org/2012/03/youtube_bypasses_the_dmca/

And the "review", supposedly by a human being which failed to spot that this birdsong was not the same copyrighted recording was also an exact legal requirement? And the lack of any appeals process after that too?

I said, after you put nasty words in my mouth, that there were other options, and there are. You're not thinking this through.


No, but I'm clearly better versed in the law than you are.

The DMCA wasn't used because Google negotiated a separate agreement. Without that agreement -- in which Google also had to give things up -- the DMCA would control, dictating both immediate compliance and a ten-day waiting period before the video could be returned.

You arrogantly behave as if you know better than me. Put up or shut up.


I think I already did put up: a review process that's meaningful. I'm done here.


A review process that would not be accepted in a negotiated agreement by the copyright trolls, and one not permitted under the DMCA.

What's a "Coder in London" doing trying to educate a US citizen and resident on US law, anyway?


I think since the data is open if SO goes of the rails in the future someone can take the data and relaunch a new site and compete.


The game is still young even with Google.

But as for SO, I would like to see SO close up their data. I don't even think they could legally get away with it. Google has always been closed, so the comparison doesn't make a lot of sense.


Not only tide will change, the tide is already changing:

Jeff Atwood already quit Stack Overflow.

Eventually Joel would do the same.

Then new business owners would start milking it more aggressively.

But I don't worry about it too much. As soon as Stack Overflow start declining - another, hungrier and more efficient competitor would pop up.

Edit: any reason for downvotes?


It is now official. Netcraft has confirmed: ExpertSexChange is dead. Now StackOverflow is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.


I like Joel & Jeff, but haven't they already walked down the evil road just a step or two?

I remember Jeff stating (correctly) that Google's "don't be evil" doesn't go far. That SO's philosophy was "do good."

However, when asked why they don't open source their code, the response boiled down to "well, we won't make money then."

Not that any of it's wrong -- and, again I love SO -- but it didn't take either of them very long to forgo their principals in favor of cash.


That's quite a strange argument - it's like meeting someone who says that they care deeply about being a good person and saying "well why don't you give all of your money to charity then".

Not releasing the source code for StackOverflow is absolutely not a "step down the evil road". If they decided to relicense everyone's existing contributions under a less open license I'd be worried.


I see a big difference between Google's "don't be evil" and StackOverflow's "contents are the community's property."

One is lip-service, a campaign promise: An empty claim that is difficult to quantify; the other is a done deal. The content on SO is licensed right now as a community-commons license.

SO even preps a data-dump for you available as a torrent: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/09/creative-commons-data-...


that's great, but when Google has already indexed the original content and has it ranking high, you able to download the content is an empty victory. They already got the cash


Making a SO competitor is not the only reason to download the data, just as making a Wikipedia competitor is not the only reason to download Wikipedia data.

One very important reason for downloading the data is for simple archiving. If Wikipedia or SO disappear tomorrow, their data will still be in the hands of the public, ready to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Not so with proprietary, closed data that's never released to the public.

Another important reason to download the data is to use it locally and with your own tools. Plenty of people download Wikipedia data for offline browsing. I'm sure the same could be done, at least in theory, with SO data.

Yet another reason is to mine the data in ways that the parent website might not allow (due to lack of knowledge, lack of interest, or lack of manpower).


There are many examples of SO scrapers that rank higher than SO itself in many cases. Like BigResource.com. So your point is moot.

A relevant point is that should SO slap a paywall around their content, anyone can grab the data and create a worthy competitor. Hence the death of ExpertSexChange.


When you talk to them you realize that on Stack Overflow, answering questions is about learning

I want to reiterate this point, for a while I would make it a point to check the latest questions on Stack Overflow for various languages I was decent at and try to answer a couple every day. There were lots of questions in which I knew 80% of the answer, and the process of discovering the last 20% always helped me learn something new. Between just reading answers to random questions and doing that, I found it to be a really awesome way to become a more knowledgable developer.


Enthusiastic SO user here. The fact that the data is available puts SO in the same category as open source software for me.

I use open source for all my tools of choice. My browser, editor, programming language, libraries, web framework, server operating system, etc etc are all open source. I get tens of thousands of dollars in value from open source.

In gratitude for that, and to keep the ball rolling, I do spend some effort contributing back to open source.

StackOverflow is no different, to me. The info on SO has saved me many hours of frustration and taught me lots of new things. Answering questions (and asking good ones) is my way of giving back.

And in both cases, it's partly selfish, too: whatever I contribute back to open source or to StackOverflow is not lost to me when I move to the next job.

Sure, I've given many hours to StackOverflow. But it's given many more hours to me in saved time. I want to keep that around.


I don't think he misunderstands at all.

"value not just to the person they are helping but as a searchable help database over time."

I think he is pointing out that what something looks like at one point in time, does not prove it will be that way forever:

"It went defunct and was basically built up from community around 2000-2001. It was a community site at that point, and it grew rapidly as such. Everything was free and community driven."

Most of the early items on SO that made it interesting to me are gone (deleted as not relevant) such as the _single_ question by Alan Kay!

The guy isn't confused, he's just commiserating that things mature and change. It's highly likely that change for SO will be in the direction of a better business model. [Edit: A better business model does not imply bad for the community, but it does often imply change.]


Have you considered that the reason that SO's acceptance criteria for questions is the way it is because of the way the community has developed, rather than any specific desire of the founders?

My own personal reason for leaving SO was because I could not sort / filter questions by high rep. I found questions by low-rep users too easy to answer and boring. High-rep users - users who got that rep from answering questions - ask good questions, because they already know how to Google, look up documentation, play around and experiment, etc., so all the easy answers have already been considered. Unfortunately Jeff Atwood dismissed my suggestion out of hand.

SO is driven by people who can tolerate answering lazy, ignorant or possibly not very bright peoples' questions. Perhaps they even thrive on this. But I think this leads them to develop a certain kind of immune system, one focused on shepherding users into asking answerable questions, and a short tolerance for wasting too much time. More open-ended discussions by the average SO questioner vs open-ended discussions by a more interesting participant can be hard to tell apart; a stupid question can seem almost philosophically gnomic when viewed charitably. And when you have lots of average people participating in the discussion, you get a lot of noise. All this noise is amplified by popularity, and SO is unquestionably popular.

So I think it's lamentable, but not really avoidable in light of SO's mission purpose.


Couldn't you have sorted the questions yourself using the Stack Exchange data explorer[1]?

[1]: http://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/new


Two and a half years ago? Probably not, no, because it didn't exist then. It's also not live data.


That's still pretty relevant, though, because you say you left because you couldn't do X.

Now you can do X, or something quite close to it (w/o researching your "live data" comment... it's not a current events site, so I suspect up-to-the-minute data isn't so urgent); so -- do you come back?


Totally. Most of the highest rated posts in SO are now "off topic". Those are the posts that gets linked over and over in other sites. Hidden gems of [programming language] posts show up in Hacker News every now and then and reaps upvotes because they are informative.

SO seems to be evolving so that each question eventually has its own individual community. I used to only have one account on SO, but now I have to track programmers, dsp, math, serverfault, superuser. Every time my questions get "migrated", I try to find answers elsewhere


My evil twin has been gradually taking over an "answers" site that has licensed technology from SO and my impression is that there's a good reason for this enforcement -- actually, asking questions is a better way to get massive amount of Karma rather than answering, particularly asking the kind of questions that lead to knock-down drag-out discussions and lots of links. If they didn't attempt to suppress this, serious Karma whores would get their Karma by asking questions and soon the people at the top of the leaderboard would be question askers, not question answerers.


Surely this problem is trivial to fix by changing the linear scoring function "5 points per upvote" to a sublinear function, that decays as upvotes increase, or has hard max.


that was totally my problem as well. I still love SO, but am sort of discouraged from starting any discussions unless it's a very direct question (and therefore will offer value to a much smaller audience that encountered exactly the same problem).

There are too many over zealous users eager to close your question before it even gets any traction because they deem it too generic or off topic (or the most annoying of all, because some new forum you're not even aware of got created that fits your question slightly better). It is especially frustrating when you see another very similar question asked by someone else that got hundreds of up votes.


This. I think SO is a great resource, and it has helped me answer countless programming questions. However, I participate less and less these days because there is a small group of overzealous users who have come to view themselves as the saviors of software development. The way they treat newcomers, and people who make innocent errors, is just not acceptable to me. I believe strongly that a community like SO can be run in a more user-friendly manner (literally, more friendly to users) -- and still be just as successful and useful as a resource of programming knowledge. I'm sorry to see SO going in the other direction.


> I still love SO, but am sort of discouraged from starting any discussions unless it's a very direct question.

That is by design and the direction that they want to focus the site.


Yes and no. While they did want to discourage offtopic and open ended discussions, they say in the last podcast[1] that the community itself took on a much stricter approach than they would have - it's probably why old popular questions are now all closed.

[1]: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/03/se-podcast-31-goodbye-...


"Most of the early items on SO that made it interesting to me are gone (deleted as not relevant)"

Could you expand on this, I'm curious to know what you're talking about.


Some questions in the early days were more like lists than questions; for example, "Hidden Features of C#/Java/C++", "What is the single most influential book every programmer should read?", "How do you clear your mind after a day of coding?", or Alan Kay's question "Significant new inventions in computing since 1980". These really aren't a good fit for the Q/A model, so they've been gradually deleted over the past year or so.

Now it's true that some of them did collect some useful content. Some of this content can be/has been migrated to tag wikis. Some of it could be blog material, but we haven't hammered out exactly how this will work. The bottom line is that big fun list-of-x questions are gone and won't come back.

That said, we've just undeleted Alan Kay's question since it really should be visible somewhere in the interim. Here it is: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/432922/significant-new-in...


It seems like an exception is being made just because Alan Kay is a well known figure in computing. If he was some random guy who asked the very same question I feel pretty certain its status would of remained deleted.


It's far from a settled subject. Nobody is (or at least I'm not) quite sure how to treat those old questions (other than the cartoon/joke threads, of course); if you check http://stackoverflow.com/questions?sort=votes, you'll see several questions that were undeleted today, not just the Alan Kay question.

Boats, of course, are always off limits.


"What Easter Eggs have you left in code" - gone. "What's your favorite programming cartoon" - gone. "What code would you have on your wedding cake" - gone. "Programmers' last words" - gone. "Most elegant, amusing or strange code one liners" - gone.

And good riddance, I'd say. Interesting - perhaps. Fun - sometimes. Useful - rarely.


I think one of the most common ideas found in posts like Greg's is a gross misunderstanding of Stack Overflow's business model[1] which leads one to speculate that the only way to make a site like SO profitable would be to charge for access to answers. I've been a huge fan of SO for a few years and am happy to see you guys figured out a way to make the site profitable without resorting to a paywall.

[1]http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/79435/what-is-stack-...


It's profitable now, yes, and probably always will be. But what happens when the site inevitably stagnates but the investors keep demanding revenue growth?


More sites on different topics. Conferences. Books. Training courses. There are a lot of ways to monetize an enthusiastic audience that wants to learn.


I know I'm just an armchair quarterback, but there's a revolution in moving university courses online. Surely some of that will stick to the stackoverflow/serverfault/superuser crowd...


Aren't 'the investors' the guys the built it: Joel Spolsky, Jeff Atowood, and originally a small engineering team?

Edit: apparently I should have done just a few more searches before I answered this, it seems that SO did seek venture funding: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2010/02/14.html


I learned this from a very wise man* about why you shouldn't take VC money: "The fundamental reason is that VCs do not have goals that are aligned with the goals of the company founders."

While I don't doubt your good intentions... Isn't the fact that WikiPedia is a 501(c)3 and you have outside influences a rather large difference?

*you


Why stop there? Isn't it true that space aliens could in fact target Jimbo Wales' brain with their brain de-braining modulators to coerce Wikipedia into erecting a paywall? Sure it's unlikely! That's the point of bringing it up as if it were a real issue on a message board! Points for cleverness!

What sucks is, in the meantime, until we can see the greens of the aliens zgrnkzorks, we're stuck judging people by their actions and sometimes even taking them at their word.


Your comment is rude and trollish. GP made the reasonable point that trust in Joel may not be enough because VCs always apply pressure to monetize.

Agree or not (and I don't), it's not some beyond-the-pale view. Chill with the space aliens.


I come across at least two people every week wanting to learn how to program, instead of giving them a 500-page C book I tell them to go to SO and try to help someone, research on google a random subject/question etc, then they start the reverse approach towards tools such as "I think I know how to do this, but how can I run python on my computer?" instead of installing 80GB of IDEs without knowing what they are for.

The results are amazing, they decide their favorite subjects without personal bias (a female friend got ultra hooked on SQL for example, even tho I hate it as a business language) and you just watch them fly.

I also make sure to point out that the reputation is not a certification of authority or correctness, as I see they are just experience points, just how much you learned while being nice enough to share that experience.

I am not a fan of the SE network splitting the subjects but understand why it exists right now, but I also think it is just an amazing problem to spend years on.


Joel,

Not all of us misunderstand where SO is going or your motivations. I've posted as much here:

http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/92683/what-experts-e...

The facts are that despite what everyone thinks/hopes, EE isn't going anywhere anytime soon. SO rules the roost for programming but EE covers more than just programming topics and is still doing pretty well and, as a user of both sites, I'm happy both exist.

Also:

"The attitude of many EE contributors"

[citation needed]

"As soon as EE introduced the concept of money they forced everybody to think of their work on EE as just that -- work."

[citation needed]

It's okay Joel. I know you feel the need to demonize EE because it worked in the beginning. Keep up the great work and see you around the web.

JCL


At some point Stack Overflow may turn 'evil' but I personally have received a lot of value out of the site and I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt that will be able to come up with a business model that will not alienate users and contributors. I personally feel a little bit more concerned with the changes being introduced by Quora (the point currency stuff) than what Joel and the rest of the team has done with Stack Overflow so far.


I agree with you on Quora.. they may have shot themselves on the foot there.. By introducing a barrier to post a question, they've just eliminated a huge % of user generated content. Now you're relying on your existing users to keep posting and answering questions, and inevitably it will keep decreasing.


Exactly. And even if SO goes evil some day: one cannot point out the fact often enough how cool it was that SO shared the user generated data. We at TwoToReal.com benefit a lot from it (http://twotoreal.com/site/credits/)!


"As soon as EE introduced the concept of money they forced everybody to think of their work on EE as just that -- work."

This is exactly why I stopped writing reviews on IMDB once they commercialized it, and why I once wrote reviews for Amazon until I thought better of it.

If these people want to make money off of my work, they should pay me.

On the other hand, I happily contributed to Wikipedia -- and would have continued to do so were it not for other reasons (having to do with point-of-view pushers dominating and subverting many of the articles I was interested in contributing to).


This is exactly why I stopped writing reviews on IMDB once they commercialized it, and why I once wrote reviews for Amazon until I thought better of it.

If these people want to make money off of my work, they should pay me.

Playing Devil's advocate, don't you benefit from other people posting reviews? And if so, is it really smart to lose those benefits just to avoid making Amazon or IMDB richer?

I mean, EE was actively making the Internet a worse place, as Jeff has put it - it makes sense to avoid helping them. But Amazon is providing a valuable service by having a place where people can easily share and read each other's reviews, and they don't exactly force anyone to buy the product from them afterwards, so what's wrong with them taking a cut from it?


"Amazon is providing a valuable service by having a place where people can easily share and read each other's reviews, and they don't exactly force anyone to buy the product from them afterwards, so what's wrong with them taking a cut from it?"

I never said there was anything wrong with it. I just said I wouldn't contribute to a for-profit site without getting paid.

"don't you benefit from other people posting reviews?"

I do benefit from other people posting reviews. But, just like Amazon doesn't force me to buy from them, I'm not forcing the reviewers to review for Amazon, nor do I force Amazon to make the reviews available to me.

"And if so, is it really smart to lose those benefits just to avoid making Amazon or IMDB richer?"

I'm not trying to avoid making Amazon or IMDB richer. I'm just saying that if they want me to contribute to a for-profit site, they should pay me.


"...I mean, EE was actively making the Internet a worse place..."

How so? Besides Mr Atwood picking the only available target and hiding his own ignorance of EE's culture, systems and processes behind hyperbole that can charitably be described as Limbaughesque? I don't mind as long as people recognize it for what it is... but if you consider Mr Atwood's (or Mr Spolsky's, for that matter) characterizations as Gospel, then I have some beachfront property in Topeka, KS I'm willing to sell you.

Evil, in my view, is telling you that you're always going to get to use SO at no charge -- and knowing that it isn't true unless the people telling you that can keep convincing other rich people to give them money (in which case it isn't evil -- it's just a very well-played Ponzi scheme).


How so?

By making people lose hours and hours of life (combined) when they clicked on an EE link from Google that lied about the contents of the page. There's a reason why I blocked the site from the search results before I even heard of Jeff Atwood.

if you consider Mr Atwood's (or Mr Spolsky's, for that matter) characterizations as Gospel

No, I just agree with them on that.

Evil, in my view, is telling you that you're always going to get to use SO at no charge

Can you please point out to where they claimed that? If they did and they do start charging for normal use, I agree that it'll be wrong. But Tu quoque is a fallacy, you know?


> I once wrote reviews for Amazon until I thought better of it.

I don't write reviews on Amazon to make Amazon better. I do that to let other people know of a good or bad product, so they can make a better buying decision than me. And I too appreciate when other people tell me when some product is amazing or crappy. Amazon just sells most of the products available for sale on the internet. So no wonder it collects reviews. But reviews is not what Amazon sells. It's just a byproduct.


The line you quote is talking about paying the contributers, not the owners.

You might want to know that wikipedia has paid staff as well.


"The line you quote is talking about paying the contributers, not the owners."

I didn't realize that. But, now that you point that out, I should say that I'm all for contributors getting paid for their contributions -- as long as there were some effective safeguards put in place to keep them from gaming the system.

"You might want to know that wikipedia has paid staff as well."

If they are paid a reasonable wage to maintain the system, from a site that subsists on the donation model, I have no problem with that at all.

A for-profit entity that makes its money from my work is something quite different, however.


The key difference for me is that when I would search for a question via search engine and an EE link would show up in the list of results it would look pertinent and I would go to the link only to find the answers blurred out and obfuscated. It's downright infuriating. If they want to keep their data private, fine, but don't show up in my answers list of open data. The faster EE is wiped off the face of the web the better. The guy who wrote this article just doesn't get it.


Senior Administrator at Experts Exchange, here.

A lot of the people who are involved in some way in Stack Overflow don't know s--t from apple butter about Experts Exchange.

"In that equation there's one person asking a question and one person writing an answer"

Citation needed. As others have noted, never let facts get in the way of a good sound bite -- or blog post. There's no evidence I've seen -- and I'm pretty sure I've spent more time looking at Experts Exchange than Mr Spolsky has -- that indicates this is remotely true, any more than it is at Stack Overflow.

"Stack Overflow recognizes that for every person who asks a question, 100 - 10,000 people will type that same question into Google and find an answer that has already been written."

Usually at Experts Exchange, if only because it's been around a lot longer than most others... and if only because it takes steps to ensure that people get THEIR question answered (as opposed to what someone with a "rep" thinks of the question).

"In our equation, we are a community of people writing answers that will be read by hundreds or thousands of people."

Citation needed. You have 204,851 questions, as of this writing, that don't have any answers, let alone ones worthy of being read by hundreds or thousands of people.

"Ours is a project more like wikipedia -- collaboratively creating a resource for the Internet at large."

Explains why you don't have anything other than advertising (that's what your job board is) and a few partnerships as a revenue model -- a model that failed in the last century. You're sure not going to ask the people who use your site to pay for it -- even though that's what Wikipedia does -- because then all the promises Mr Atwood made would be ... untruths.

"Because that resource is provided by the community, it belongs to the community."

Animal Farm was a community too. We'll see how much it belongs to the community when someone tries to take it away from you.

"That's why our data is freely available and licensed under creative commons. We did this specifically because of the negative experience we had with EE taking a community-generated resource and deciding to slap a paywall around it."

Straw man, but I'll grant that it was the perfect rallying cry. Experts Exchange disclaims any and all ownership of content (which is all the creative commons license deals with) -- and that has been consistent since 1996. But... EE is also honest. It expects people who receive a benefit of its service to pay for it, either by paying or by contributing. The guy passing by once a year to get a quick and dirty answer to a programming question he's too lazy to figure out on his own is not, by any definition, a member of a community; he's a tourist. If SO wants to consider itself the Disneyland of Q&A sites -- a fantasyland in which everything is perfect and good -- then so be it, but you'd better be a lot more diligent about who actually provides your content. Hint: your question-answerers aren't the whole equation.

There's no question EE made some amazingly stupid mistakes -- against the advice of people who have been around EE, the tech industry and subscription/advertising/membership businesses a lot longer than those making the decisions. In doing so, it opened the door for you and Mr Atwood to go FUD on it, and build yourself a lot of traffic, but not a business. But that also opened the door for EE to recognize the value of its community -- as opposed to the Del Webb-esque agglomeration you've assembled -- and include it into the planning and development of not just the site's features, but its agenda and planning for the future. And since it actually has a viable business model, it can do that.

"The attitude of many EE contributors, like Greg Young who calculates that he "worked" for half a year for free, is not shared by the 60,000 people who write answers on SO every month."

You're probably right. Then again, you're also taking what he said out of context. For the record (and for those too lazy to actually read Greg's post), he said

"Let’s do some quick math assuming 5 minutes per post thats 50,000 minutes of my time. Or roughly a half year full time weeks of work. I think the time is actually higher than that though."

I can promise that when Greg posted, he did so thoughtfully, while doing his best to help the people he was responding to. I can also guarantee that he learned a lot at EE; if nothing else, he learned how to write, and speak to groups, and take criticism of his efforts. He learned that he was valued for something other than his ability to write code. He learned that there were a lot of people he had never met concerned with his well-being in the days, weeks and months following Hurricane Katrina.

However, he was never compelled by anyone to do anything, and like most people who do volunteer work (there's that word again), it's usually a labor of love. You're welcome to make things up as you go along about EE-The-Company... but do not put words in the mouths of EE's members, and especially those who answer questions. You aren't worthy.

"We did this specifically because of the negative experience we had with EE taking a community-generated resource and deciding to slap a paywall around it."

Neither you nor your partner has any experience to speak of with Experts Exchange. At least I've posted a few times at SO. At least I've taken the time to figure out how your site works, as has the Managing Director at EE and at least two of the other site administrators. I won't call you a liar, Mr Spolsky... but I will say you're playing fast and loose with the truth when you say you have "experience with EE"... because you have NONE.

The emperor has no clothes, but Napoleon did.


"Stack Overflow recognizes that for every person who asks a question, 100 - 10,000 people will type that same question into Google and find an answer that has already been written."

Usually at Experts Exchange, if only because it's been around a lot longer than most others... and if only because it takes steps to ensure that people get THEIR question answered (as opposed to what someone with a "rep" thinks of the question).

I'm not sure if you believe that or not, but I can tell you that's definitely not true for me. There was a time that EE actually did rank high on many of my Google searches, but I don't think I ever had it answer a single question of mine due to your site design. Now I'd estimate less than 1 in 100 programming issues I have yield an EE result over SO.

The guy passing by once a year to get a quick and dirty answer to a programming question he's too lazy to figure out on his own is not, by any definition, a member of a community; he's a tourist

I think this displays a fundamental difference in how you and I idealize technical research. You seem to follow the "RTFM" doctrine. I subscribe to the view that StackOverflow (and other community forums) is the f'ing manual. If I haven't used Google or SO search within 5 minutes of hitting a library- or framework-related problem I've been wasting my time. I think it's unreasonable of you to call this laziness. To me it has proven very effective.

Furthermore, if you want to disincentivise passers-by why is it so imperitive that your site be indexed by Google? After all, your community seems to know where to look already.


peeters,

"I'm not sure if you believe that or not... I have yield an EE result over SO."

Without knowing your username, I can't comment except to say that unlike SO, EE has built systems over the past couple of years -- at the community's insistence -- that allow us to take extraordinary measures to ensure you get responses and, hopefully, answers.

There's no question that today -- indeed, for nearly the last year -- SO's results have ranked higher than EE's. There are a number of possible reasons (and the true nature of why is probably a combination of them): 1. EE's decisions to worry more about SERP than about fixing the issues it had created with its site with the 2007 launch; in short, it was an idea that was founded in a total misunderstanding of the nature of volunteer Experts, people who ask questions, and the evolving nature of Q&A. By building the site it did, and then by trying to "fix" the problem that was created, you can make the case that everything EE did led to the establishment of SO (and any number of other Q&A sites) and -- given the nature of the relationship between SO's founders and Matt Cutts, even the Panda changes to Google's algorithm. 2. SO is free to use, and free trumps paid. Free is also a lot more difficult to pay the bills with (you can't make it up on the volume), but for the initial phase of developing traffic and SERPs, there's no question in my mind that Free will win every time. 3. EE's internal systems didn't really allow for it to quickly respond to an evolving landscape. The 2007 site was almost marketing-centric, and for at least two years, EE attempted to do things by using marketing-type solutions. They didn't work, because they addressed symptoms and not the underlying issues. Once EE realized what the problems really were, it was too late to go back, so it had to start from the ground up; it had to maintain its existing systems (and improve them incrementally) while at the same time rebuild the entire programming and data foundations... and allow for the migration from one system to the other with a minimum of disruption -- and given that EE is now nearly 15 years old, that was no mean feat by any stretch. Oh... and it had to do it on the fly, using only current revenues -- there's no sugar daddy bankrolling EE -- so the option of hiring 250 programmers and developers wasn't viable.

"I think this displays a fundamental difference in how you and I idealize technical research. You seem to follow the "RTFM" doctrine. I subscribe to the view that StackOverflow (and other community forums) is the f'ing manual."

I'm willing to accept that you believe SO is the effing manual. But what I consider EE to be is the place where you go when the effing manual isn't enough -- and in the 40 or so years I've been dealing with electronic data processing technology, I'm met exactly one English-speaking person who can actually "get" a technical manual or reference reading it the first time. That's not to denigrate the people at SO; in my experience, many are well-spoken, capable people who do their best to understand questions and offer solutions. But because of SO's systems, some user who may not be the most technically adept may or may not understand what s/he's being told -- and may or may not be able to formulate his/her question in a manner that can be relatively easily answered.

And THAT, to me, is the fundamental difference between EE and SO. EE's culture is such that any Expert worthy of the designation will try to understand the Asker's issues. It's not about the Experts; it's about finding the solution for the Asker. It's not about coming up with the perfectly written question and pristinely described solution; it's about helping someone who is faced with an issue s/he doesn't know how to resolve.

"If I haven't used Google or SO search within 5 minutes of hitting a library- or framework-related problem I've been wasting my time. I think it's unreasonable of you to call this laziness. To me it has proven very effective."

Apples and oranges. One of the most frequest complaints I see daily at EE is what we call "abandoners" -- people who ask, get the answer and don't even bother to say "thanks", and one of the most frequent complaints I see about SO is essentially the same thing. You don't fit that model. You search, as do most people who are EE members (including paying ones). You do not care to take the time to ask a question and get an answer (because, in your experience, it's inefficient); my experience is that it's inefficient to. But you're not the person I commented on. My comment was in reference to the person who drives by, asks a question, and doesn't say a word -- he just takes. He doesn't want to learn; he just wants it handed to him. And yes, that's lazy.

"Furthermore, if you want to disincentivise passers-by why is it so imperitive that your site be indexed by Google? After all, your community seems to know where to look already."

I may be passionate in my defense of Experts Exchange (they'll tell you I'm equally passionate in my criticism of them as well) -- but I'm not stupid. EE got brutalized by Google's algorithm update after brutalizing itself by some structural design decisions that were ... ummm ... let's call them "misguided". Like everyone else in the web world, with the possible exceptions of Facebook, Amazon, eBay and a few others, being visible in Google's index is important; it's where new customers come from.

I spent most of my life in a subscription-based business -- and what's true is that you lose customers every day, and you have to replace them, plus pick up a few more, just to stay even. When Panda was implemented, EE had been back where it had been prior to the 2007 launch in terms of traffic for a relatively short period of time; that means that what sustained EE for the better part of five years was solely its ability to perform for its existing customer base, because its SOURCE of new subscribers was reduced to a comparative trickle. If you ask me, that is a far more eloquent explanation of why EE is going to be around for the long haul than anything else: it works.

ep


Was it your decision to re-design EE so as to put any real content so far beneath footer material, that people often fail to see it, but (of course) Google does?

If so, thankyou. This change prompted me to to install a browser plugin to remove your site from my search queries, and I have been ever so slightly more productive ever since.


No, it wasn't my decision; it was a series of decisions the other Admins and I adamantly opposed that were taken in the misguided belief that EE's problems were strictly SEO-related (with the 2007 launch), and that those problems could be mitigated by doing literally everything Google said to do without actually addressing the core problem. In 2009, the internal landscape at EE changed -- in large part because the Admins were exceedingly concerned about EE's future -- which led to a wholesale change in almost every aspect of the company internally and led to the recently completed rewrite of the entire site.

But since you're more interested in griping about news five years old, you don't care, won't look at the new Freemium model (another community contribution to EE), and will continue to parrot the kind of misinformation Mr Spolsky has made almost a career of promulgating.

ep


I found it interesting to read the rebuttal from someone involved with EE.

It is sad that so many people downvoted this comment because they dislike EE though, making the comment annoyingly hard to read because it is grayed out.


Folks should not downvote Eric just because he's from EE. He's adding substantively to the discussion.


Much of the power of SO comes from twin occurrences:

1) Most answers are well indexed on Google.

2) They are right often enough that seeing SO in the search results generates a click over other options.

The net is a very high brand value. Hard to monetize by putting up a pay wall and hard to beat too. Network effects suggest that one service with a million users beats ten with 100 thousand each.


Why isn't SO open-source? How do you feel about the many clones out there?


Although not open source:

- content is openly CC-licensed

- some components are open-source, like their thin ORM

- the SE team regularly and openly discusses about their architecture through their blogs


Although one key difference is that EE kept the IP for all the user generated content, but all SO content is licensed under Creative Commons.

http://stackoverflow.com/faq#editing


This is the key difference. Stack Overflow has said all along that it would always be free and the CC license helps ensure this.

If Stack Overflow decides to put up a paywall anyone could simply put up the all existing content, perhaps using one of the existing open source SO clones [1]. Also, a lot of the current Google traffic would instead go to one of the sites which currently legitimately repost all of SO's content [2].

[1] http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/2267/stack-overflow-... [2] http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/24611/is-it-legal-to...


Of course, it would have to link back to StackOverflow with a non-nofollowed link.


I think Stack Overflow will be better in the long run.

For instance I don't mind ads that are relevant to me, like book recommendations. I also wouldn't mind complementary services related to Stack Overflow.

There are more options available right now than in the early 2000 that could earn them revenue without upsetting the community.


yes, but how can the need for ROI (on the $millions invested) not hurt the current user experience?


I think the investment was a bet that the Stack Overflow model could be replicated in many verticals. If they're able to achieve being the de facto QA site for other professions like they are for programming, I think there are several revenue models that would be possible.


I think you're asking the wrong question. Show me how the need for ROI has hurt the current user experience.


Until the VCs are satisfied with their current ROI (and there's no indication that they are), they'll probably push for more monetization - some of which will probably end up hurting the user experience eventually.


You said "probably" twice in that sentence, which is a clear sign that you're speculating. There's no indication that they're not satisfied with their current ROI either. I'll be a contributing member of SO until I actually see evidence of something (whether it's the VCs or something else) hurting user experience.


VCs care about future ROI, specifically the exit. Stack Overflow needs revenues only to the extent that they enable a big exit. They might not need to be huge if the exit is a sale to a bigger company interested mostly in the traffic (see: YouTube).


Are there signs that the VCs are unhappy with their ROI?


Because the user experience has not yet suffered does not guarantee it won't. I am not saying that the user experience will be ruined, only that it is technically possible. We just have to imagine SO is sold and the new owners put more ads, for example. Do you know if the current investors are happy about the current ROI?


It is technically possible for the earth to be hit by a comet tomorrow, wiping out all life. Just because this hasn't happened in our lifetimes does not guarantee it won't.

Instead of posting comments on the internet, you should be spending time with your loved ones.


Why speculate on what might happen? I can always bail out and stop contributing if something changes and Stack Overflow stops being a valuable resource for me as a developer.


Exactly.. Of course it won't be super-easy to replace SO but at least the information is available. They even post data dumps.. cool =)

If they are cynical, they might change license for new content after the community has gained enough traction. I'm not convinced people would stop using SO if they did.

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/06/attribution-required/


Important point: new content. It is not possible to retroactively change the CC license used to a more restrictive one ("I know you fully legally downloaded the last data dump, but could you delete your copy? Pretty please?").

So, license change -> major drop in participation as many will go elsewhere bringing with them SO's content up to that point -> might as well close the thing down, killing the golden goose and whatnot.

(btw, 1.there are worries that the community has already gained too much traction and the site's decline is imminent, as it'll surely be swamped with high-noise Q&A; and 2. speaking for myself, I'd surely quit if a restrictive license were put in place, there are many such users)


EE always had a dubious way of trying to game Google search results: have a huge advert at the top making the content you're after look blocked, followed by tonnes of filler content, then if you scrolled a looooong way to the bottom there's the content in tiny text. So Google sees the content but most humans don't. That always annoyed me sufficiently to block all EE results from search and just use SO. SO have always stated they're trying to be helpful to searchers and make the internet better. IMO it's no wonder they thoroughly beat EE and I'd think twice about trying to bring anything like EE back...


EE only had the at content at the end of the human reachable page because google was going to stop listing pages that had content only for the robot. Or at least that is what I remember happening.


And at least at some point, it was only there if you had a google referer header. Navigating directly to the page in question wouldn't show you the answers at all.


Yeah, and you only get the content if you visit from Google and not go the URL directly.


The author's main point is that Expert's Exchange (EE) was very similar to StackOverflow (SO) until they needed to push up the S-curve from a profitability perspective.

It's a valid concern since SO has relied on organic growth to fuel the necessary returns in order to sustain its current business model and then, more recently, attract VC investment.

What the author doesn't mention is what makes SO slightly different. One is the licensing of the content, which the founders never fail to point out (and has already been rehashed here by several SO defenders). This is hand-waving, since they couldn't have achieved early success to drive organic growth without this license in place (this isn't the first time EE has been compared to SO).

The other more interesting difference is the StackExchange (SE) platform and accompanying business model, which basically seeks to expand into an unending array of fields and topics. SO & SE are likely to continue being pleasant to use, as long as the StackExchange strategy is working and growth can come from the platform extension. Should that strategy fail, SO will need a growth strategy that provides the returns VCs expect and the company may be forced into some inconvenient (to users) "monetization" decisions.

Essentially, when you're a for-profit company, it's easy to "do no evil" when you're rapidly growing organically. EE is only one such example, it's easy to come up with dozens of others: About.com, Mahalo, Digg, SourceForge, Google, Ben & Jerry's, etc. Unless it's a non-profit or maybe one of those new B-Corps, history provides much more support for skeptics. After all, company leaders aren't just acting out of greed, they are legally obligated to do what is best for shareholders.

That said, let's hope Mr. Spolsky hasn't forgotten about his rant on platform providers who don't realize they are platform providers (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/Platforms.html). He should be able to make the case that treating users (which are like developers in a traditional software platform) fairly will drive more long-term shareholder value than tactics employed by those that came before SO.

Only time will tell.


There is a reason why Google IPOed using dual class stock.


> The idea of the business model is to pay people in imaginary currency and sell what they do for real currency.

That "imaginary" currency has paid off for me. I got my most recent job through Stack Overflow.


We're happy to hear you got your job with a little help from us! If anyone else would like an invite to our careers site, you can use this link for an invite. http://bit.ly/A4CB1B

Additionally we are actually hiring people to join the careers team right now, http://bit.ly/xXXewd <- developers, and http://bit.ly/xthTi9 <- product manager.

I am curious how your Stack Overflow activity was used in the hiring process. Would you mind sharing?


> I am curious how your Stack Overflow activity was used in the hiring process. Would you mind sharing?

I searched on the Careers 2.0 site and applied to a few firms that looked interesting. For one particular firm, my SO profile acted as my "code sample". I got the offer within a few weeks and have been happy ever since.

I'll note that most of the firms that advertised on your Careers site were very serious about software quality. The signal-to-noise of excellent companies was far beyond what I've traditionally gotten through a head hunter. I suspect that's because any hiring manager who actually knows what SO is has probably had tons of hands-on experience with coding.


> That "imaginary" currency ...

The currency that you get paid with on SO, Github, mailing lists, open source software etc is reputation. In many circumstances (eg getting a job) it is far more valuable than real currency.


> The whole point here is to make as much money as possible. If the goal were to build up community you wouldn’t need to set them up as a centralized broker of the information, it would be distributed

I don't think that he totally gets StackOverflow.

SO has demonstrated to my satisfaction that:

1) they care about other things besides money. Sure money pays the bills, but if you do it right, being rich and famous is just a by-product to the main accomplishment.

2) SO works far better at getting stuff done in the technical QA space than any "distributed" model so far tried.


This article is terrible. First, it assumes no learning since the EE days. Second, comparisons to EE are weak (I do't remember EE ever being good). Third, he picked a lousy target (StackOverflow) given that FogCreek is well-known for having extreme patience, especially as it relates to commercialization. Finally, he leaves out the primary business: the StackExchange software being offered to customers to create other verticals.


20k+ rep SO user here. Early on, reputation was an incentive to answer a lot of questions because with it came graduated permissions. At 20k, there is no further incentive besides vanity. So reputation isn't an incentive for me.

Has that stopped me from answering questions? Absolutely not. Joel is bang-on that my take away from SO is not reputation, it's knowledge. It seems like some people can't grasp that you learn just as much answering questions as you do asking them.

StackOverflow could shut me out tomorrow (I hope it doesn't!) and I wouldn't feel like I've wasted time on the site. I'd just find another site like it and start over.


Here's a rather less paranoid article that's (partly) about SO.

http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/201x/2012/02/29/Undocument...

Seriously, given that the data is freely available and for as long as it remains so, "OMG you're making money from my knowledge how dare you you cad" is about as valid a complaint as it would be if levelled at any of the ISPs in days of yore that ran Usenet servers. And it's definitely saved me more time (a factor of 100 - 10,000? I have no idea) than I've ever given back to it


I think you nailed it. I try to answer questions on SO when I have spare time. But that's mostly because of the massive value I've gained from the site. Most of the time it's not even asking questions, but looking at great answers to questions that have already been asked.

If I continue to get the same value from SO, I'm happy to keep answering questions where I can and they're free to profit off that in any way they choose as long as everything remains public.


SO has recently been flooded by people who create an account and post questions in the "fix my problem" style, often also pasting a bunch of their defunct code. There are also questions that would be more appropriate for rent-a-coder.

All in all, I'm getting annoyed and considering to leave the community.


"Fix my code" questions are considered "too localized" and should be closed as such.


I dare suggesting that this is a larger problem and trying to close individual questions is not a scalable approach.


Yup. As recently as 2008, in fact ;) It's just a question of scale - the community gets larger, so you get more of everything.


Yeah, there are bad questions. Always have been, always will be.

Sometimes, I take the time to explain to people how to make their question better (reduce the code down to a minimal example, and explain what you've already tried being the two most important pieces of advice). Sometimes I just downvote or vote to close if it's bad enough.

You have the freedom to chose the questions that you pay attention to. If you're feeling burned out by bad questions, just skip them and keep looking for good ones; or go elsewhere and do something else for a while.


If you don't have enough rep yet to vote-to-close yourself, flag 'em for attention, and the rest of us will bring down the Close Hammer.


I was to point out that I never at any point suggested that SO would make the same mistake as EE and put up a pay gate. This was a very stupid idea. There are many less intrusive ways of capitalizing a community (I can think about a dozen off the top of my head). I would hope Joel et al are smarter than to make the same mistakes and kill the goose.

@Joel I think you need to learn more about EE's background (as do many here). It was more community oriented than SO is at this point. Hell the community even wrote large portions of the software thats still being used. They screwed up in their attempts at capitalization and alienated their community. The point of looking back at EE experiences has to do with their alienation of the community. I was perfectly happy to do it at the time and it was learning experiences. It was not also as you said "a customer getting an answer" any more than SO is, that model came later.

If you believe that you are more like wikipedia then by all means feel free to become a non-profit. Otherwise the stated goal of your company will be to grow your community so that you can capitalize off of their efforts. We can spin this in many ways but the stated goal of the company is to do this.

To the other people in this thread who think that SO is righteous. How do you feel about Facebook? Google? There are loads of examples of these styles of business models out there. The question with these business models is whether they can squeeze the necessary revenue out of a community without alienating it. Some have been good with it, some have not been so good at it.

Also for those who called me a hypocrite due to SO donating some money to charity the difference is CB donates ALL profits to charity. They operate essentially as a non-profit.



I very much agree with Joel in that SO is about, at least to me, acting as some kind of centralized destination where I know that somebody has had the same problem I'm currently experiencing, has asked it before, and has been given an answer or a few by the community. If no such question has been asked, I'll ask it because chances are somebody else will want to ask it down the line. SO is unlikely EE in that anyone in the community answers a question, and popular ones generally become community wiki answers, and I know the former to be true because after much learning, I (as a self-perceived noob) started answering quite a few questions and have built up a reputation. Do I think I wasted time in doing so? Of course not, I've helped others and I've helped keep the Rails community noob friendly. That and I can show off my earned reputation to any future potential employers.


This is roughly analogous to claiming that the iPad won't work because resistive touch tablets didn't take off.


Disclosure upfront: I'm an SO fanboy. I used EE back at its glory days, and I can say there's a world of difference between EE and SO. EE felt as it was a site built to make money, and the particular vehicle they used is to host questions and answers. SO feels as a site built to create questions&answers community, and they are making money out of it. There's a subtle difference about it, but it felt throughout the site - how it was designed, how workflows were organized, etc. Of course, I might be wrong and SO founders may be just evil geniuses tricking myself and everybody else, but the feeling is distinctly different from EE. Of course, SO also has much superior engine, user interface and benefit of years of experience that EE didn't have back then.


Maybe this was before my time, but was experts-exchange ever anything more than SEO spam with no content?


Sure. Early on, it was a scraper that pulled down usenet content and rebranded it as its own with ads over the top.

I first found them via a Google search on my own name, to discover that in addition to comp.sci.*, I'd also been answering questions there.


Yep, same here. Sort of amusing to see some historical revisionism going on here from the E-E people.

I don't doubt that there were some genuine contributors, but claiming other's hard work as their own tainted E-E's brand for me.

P.S. For the young 'uns, Google Groups isn't. It is usenet re-branded. Google is now doing the same thing!


I think at first they showed answers. Later they only showed answers to GoogleBot and tried to get you to jump through hoops to see them. Finally, Google smacked them down and they implemented a tricky system where you had to scroll and long way to see the answers. The site was designed to try to get you to sign-up or pay to see answers.

Overall it was a sleazy site, IMHO. Occasionally I would find useful answers there but eventually I just blacklisted them from my Google results. StackOverflow is miles better than EE ever was.


It took me way too long to realize this, but there were actually answers below the huge wall of links on E-E pages!


This was not implemented until Google has temporarily kicked them off the indexes for black-hat SEO back in 2008, IIRC. Before that, the answers were not physically present on the page served to humans, but they were on the page that was served to Googlebot. This is called "content cloaking" and is punishable by a Google-ban (which takes at least weeks to get reversed).


I work for Google's Developer Relations department. My team just moved their technical Q&A to Stack Overflow, as have other DevRel teams. We have several sponsored tags on SO and make the effort to help respond to questions tagged in our area of expertise.


If this guy's writing is indicative of the quality of EE "experts"' prose, then I'm even less surprised that place went down.


Stack Overflow has made the internet a better "place"

Experts-Exchange just got in my way when I googled for answers.


Regarding the undercurrent of anger that seems to exist regarding Stack Overflow making money: SO has a great model that is incredibly useful and helps many, many people. They have created massive value. SO making more money means more people being helped, and yes, a well-deserved return for the founders and team members who poured their lives into creating and supporting such an amazingly useful resource.

This is a good thing.


Stackoverflow is one of the best things that have happened to tech community, for that very purpose we have created a group to meet other engineers from stackoverflow community for lunch http://www.LetsLunch.com/stackoverflow


I think spolsky hit the nail on the head with "answering questions is about learning". If I profit from it and the site owners profit from it as well, so be it. This is a very rare case of win-win.


If by "StackOverflow" you mean "Tumblr" then yes, I agree totally.


Lets say you go to a dance club because people come there to hangout. Is the discotheque ripping you off by not paying for making their dance club better? Are you getting zero value for it? Are their expenses zero for taking the effort to make it a good experience?

And StackOverflow does not even charge an entry fee. I believe almost everyone on that site received more value from it than they put in. The amount of time saved by SO is ridiculous and was painfully obvious before the Panda update to Google which demoted the clones in the search results.

StackOverflow is the result of tons of hard work on both the technology and the community by the founders and employees. The site scales very well inspite of super heavy traffic and the UI/UX provide a great experience. In fact, the site and their blog posts serve as a poster child for .NET based startups while using OSS software like Redis.

Is it really the end of the world if they show an ad or two? The sense of entitlement in the article is just too much for me to bear. The author can take the CC licensed content and go build a Wikipedia style site for all SO cares and instantly get a free bootstrap of millions of quality questions and answers. I think they will actually be happy if it's a better place than SO, because they set out with the aim of making the status quo better for programmers all around the globe and succeeded wildly and raised the bar pretty high.


"Hey, look! They're making money with my knowledge! How they dare to do that?"

Welcome to real world.


> "Hey, look! They're making money with my knowledge! How they dare to do that?"

> Welcome to real world.

Have you READ the fucking article, or just came here to post your "cool" one-liner reply?

Because in the article he mentions the REAL WORLD case of Experts-Exchange. And he mentions his hard earned REAL WORLD experience that such things don't end well as commercial entities, because when they are pushed for monetization they become closed and/or ad-circuses.

He also suggests using a distributed model for such sites.

You know, like, Wikipedia, which also exists in the REAL WORLD, but is not in it for making money with our knowledge, but for building a non profit community for knowledge sharing.


Dude, the author and you are so far out of the loop on SO it's strange. How long have you been in the SO and HN communities?

Joel and Jeff setup SO because EE sucked so bad, from the beginning they've said 'we're not going to end up like the site with the hyphen'.

And now you're saying they're going to go against their entire raison d'etre? They have been upfront about everything, they made the posts all CC (http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/06/stack-overflow-creativ...) so the old experts-exchange and IMDB bait and switch can't happen to SO.

Go listen to their old podcasts and read their original blogs.


Joel and Jeff setup SO because EE sucked so bad, from the beginning they've said 'we're not going to end up like the site with the hyphen'.

Jeff has already left the company. When Joel leaves who is going to be the antihyphen then? All it would take is a new board with some short term thinking(perhaps post IPO) to get them to hyphen land. As pointed out in the article EE started with high ideals too.

Their statement of CC licensing isn't clear. Do I license them my content CC or is it theirs and they license it back to me CC?

Google has already decided that anyone who tries to take the content and launch a SO a like is going to get penalized to death, so good luck on forking if they go evil.


Google has already decided that anyone who tries to take the content and launch a SO a like is going to get penalized to death, so good luck on forking if they go evil.

Did they really say that? I am a bit skeptical that they would do that, but maybe they made an exception with the "Panda" update thing.


Google hasn't said it they have done it(I don't follow Google that closely so I don't know if it is the Panda update or what). There have been several SO content clones. Some ranked higher than SO for given queries even after the update that was aimed at low quality content(the only reason I heard of it is because it generated a few HN articles). When that was mentioned on HN a couple of Googlers asked for examples so they could "Fix it".


Dude, the author and you are so far out of the loop on SO it's strange. How long have you been in the SO and HN communities?

I'm on the SO since 2009 IIRC. (Btw, I'm over 16, non American, and my surname is not Lebowski, so I'm not a "dude").

Joel and Jeff setup SO because EE sucked so bad, from the beginning they've said 'we're not going to end up like the site with the hyphen'. And now you're saying they're going to go against their entire raison d'etre?

Yeah, and Google once said "don't be evil". Corporate promises don't mean much, I'll take laws, signed contracts or systemic assurances over them anytime.

When there's profit involved and especially investors, money has a way to become the 'raison d'etre'.

Besides, Jeff has already quit Stack Overflow/Exchange: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/02/farewell-stack-exch...

(The downvote means what?

I haven't made a reasoned argument?

There have not been many cases of corporate bait-and-switch?

It's inconceivable that people running SO in the future could attempt one, with investor money involved and Jeff retired?

Or is it simply a case of: "I disagree with you, la la la la la"?)


> Corporate promises don't mean much, I'll take laws, signed contracts or systemic assurances over them anytime.

Then you'll love the copyright license (CC) under which they offer the questions and answers for free copying and redistribution, the contract law that binds them to this license and the other terms of their site, and the systemic assurance this creates that they cannot put up a paywall around the answers we've provided. We can just take them with us to another site; many SO clones including the full content already exist, entirely legally.


It was a more of a 'dude, calm down'. You're shouting and swearing and getting angry at a couple of guys who's declared motive was to try and fix the information exchange model for everyone and make the world a better place.

I for one am immensely grateful to both of them for making my job a lot, lot easier, has given me pride in the answers I've provided and also for creating something that's a pleasure to use.

I assume none of us here are naive enough to think that there's not a chance that at some point in the future it might get worse, but their actions so far show nothing to be concerned about.


The way the SO content is licensed and the API creates a powerful disincentive for a malevolent corporate overlord from putting a paywall up.

A paywall would dramatically reduce the amount of new content being generated, and the open license of the existing content lowers the entry barriers for a competitor. Even an MBA can figure out that a paywall is a bad idea.

That's not to say that there isn't some other creative way that a malevolent overlord could do evil with SO, but in any case, you or I can pick up the back catalog of data and do whatever we wish.


Dude, you don't get it. Lebowski is "The Dude". And you're just a dude.


It was a more of a 'dude, calm down'. You're shouting and swearing and getting angry

Swearing? You mean the "have you read the fucking article" kind of swearing? And shouting? You mean emphasizing "real world" with uppercase, because HN doesn't allow bold? ...

at a couple of guys who's declared motive was to try and fix the information exchange model for everyone and make the world a better place. I assume none of us here are naive enough to think that there's not a chance that at some point in the future it might get worse, but their actions so far show nothing to be concerned about.

One of them has already quit. VC money are in. Since you agree there is such a chance, then I merely pointed out that it's reasonable to "be concerned about" it.


A big difference between EE and SO that is not being talked about is the fact the EE used to pay people for answers. There was a practice of monetization from the very beginning. SO has never attempted to pay people for their answers (in fact they have been vehemently against it). While I agree that you cannot make a supposition that since the site has not tried to capitalize on it's user base that it will forever continue to be the same, I have seen no evidence that there are changes afoot. I think that people are putting the semi-colon before the code block here.

The fact of the matter is that at any time, any site that we know and love can change or go away forever. Jeff and Joel have built something that is great. They have put everything in place to try and prevent their gift from being twisted into evil. These preventative measures are the largest difference between EE and SO, and they should be applauded for their efforts and contributions not maliciously attacked by some guy who is paranoid about the actions of a community that he plainly states he is not a contributing member of.


Experts Exchange NEVER paid cash for answers. People answered questions to earn t-shirts or free memberships but never money.

It's an idea that has been discussed for as long as I've been involved with EE and prior but never implemented. It's too complicated given taxes and the international user base to be at all feasible.


I said that EE paid people for answers, I never mentioned cash. SO has only every used earned reputation (as a form of gamification) to entice users to answer questions.


SO has swag for top rep earners so it's a distinction without a difference. The original article talked about getting paid for answering and I thought you were reacting to that with your post.


The point of my argument is that SO was built to create a better source of reliable information 1st and make money 2nd, while it always appeared (at least to me) that EE was built to make money 1st and it's usefulness always seemed like a secondary priority (again this is just my opinion).


Once VC money gets involved there has to be a path to monetization somewhere. I don't want to argue the virtue level of the founders because there's no point in it. EE started off as a community and still is a community. The paywall is what it is because EE will not take any more VC money.


Wikipedia is exactly as centralized as StackOverflow, in that it's all in a single site but licensed under Creative Commons.


Only from a technical point. From a business point, it's also a non profit.


Churches are also non-profit. As is Scientology. Just being a non-profit isn't insurance against evil.


Being a non-profit does not make you decentralized.


Barnum, that great scholar of suckers, said it better.


I don't get this attitude toward SO. Most of the people who go there get the answers they seek, including experts with questions outside their domain of expertise.

I hear all sorts of people fretting about how to give back to the community to make their lives more meaningful. Isn't this an ideal win/win?


Stackoverflow is not a community, it's a business, and their business is reselling that sense of community to third parties.

I've no quarrel with Stackoverflow, it's a very nice site and a useful project. I do have a quarrel with people whose brains seem to turn off once anything 'Web2.0' is involved. Just because it's on the web doesn't mean that the laws of economics and common sense no longer apply.


Why must community and business be mutually exclusive? Hint: they're not, and SO is both.


Because to survive as a business SO needs to sell your sense of 'comunity' to a third-party resource.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, just be aware that when you're participating on SO you're only a 'human resource', to be marketed and sold sometime later in the future. Hopefully SO is run by decent guys and the buyer will be ethical.


By "sell" you're implying that the sense of community is in some way diminished by selling advertising. I don't find this to be the case, unless it leads to a conflict of interest (i.e. SO deletes all Linux articles at the behest of Microsoft).

Now if you were to use "capitalize on", "monetize", or one of the many verbs that don't imply a transfer of ownership, then I would agree with you.


Well, check the article again. You had that win/win situation with experts-exchange too.

Then they baited and switched upon their users, putting up a paywall.


> Then they baited and switched upon their users, putting up a paywall.

Which StackOverflow's Creative Commons license and public data dumps make very difficult to implement.


There's no value in SO's database of questions and answers, they might as well give it away under whatever liberal license they want.

The real business value of SO is the engaged ("community") web traffic it receives. ("Community" == "higher ad CPM" and "highly contextual advertising" in business terms.)


That community would become rather less engaged, and thus less valuable, if a paywall were implemented.


The user you are talking to is "qwe123_troll"

qwe123[4] is a troll account name with a storied history: http://www.reddit.com/user/qwe1234


Implementing a paywall would be rather pointless, since that's a very bad way to monetize traffic.

However, StackOverflow can make big money by cleverly partnering with corporations: instead of a site that answers "how do I do XYZ with ABC toolkit" they could gradually shift to a site that answers "doing XYZ with BigCorp ExpensiveSolution: how I increased ROI and fixed my dental problems".

The point is that between "comunity" and "traffic monetization" there is a clear and obvious conflict of interest, and it's pretty obvious which side of this conflict will be taken by SO's sponsors.

Incidentally, this is also exactly why Wikipedia doesn't display ads or monetize traffic.


At which point someone would download the complete StackExchange data dump[1], import it into one of the dozens of SE engine clones like Shapado and compete with them without having to bootstrap the content.

[1]: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/09/creative-commons-data-...


Yeah, guys, I know that.

Problem is data and engine just being available does not take care of everything.

First, someone has to decide to offer this as a service to other people. Nothing assures that.

He then would have to upload the data on his servers and have S.O. grade server setup, that costs a fortune, to serve all the traffic.

Then there would be the problem of transferring the actual user accounts and their credit and status.

So, this line of argument (you can always get the data out and serve them) is more like the classic "it's open source, you can fork it if they choose do something you don't like". Sorry, but this is only realistic if you have the knowledge AND the resources to do so.


But the fact that they make the dumps available shows that they do in fact "give a flying @#$! about the community" and they don't "only care about keeping the community happy enough that they keep giving them intellectual property for imaginary currency so they can sell it for real currency".

The community would be happy enough by just getting a decent alternative to EE - the data licensing and dumps go well over and beyond that.

The blog post is essentially criticizing them not for something they did, but for having the mere possibility of doing something to screw up the community, even when they took important steps to reduce that risk. Seems completely unfair to me.


Nobody is saying "StackOverflow gives you a one-click tool to create their competitor sites!" They're just saying that 1) SO has made it impossible for themselves to set up a paywall around the content and 2) if they go evil, it's POSSIBLE to take your data and leave. The fact that they have open sourced some of their tools and that competing frameworks already exist make this easier, but no, still not easy.

But is that SO's fault? What more could SO do to earn your trust? And what alternative to SO do you propose?


There are already a ton of clones doing this. We keep a list. http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/2267/stack-overflow-...




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: