Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

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




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

Search: