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Dear StackExchange: Thank You (maxmackie.com)
234 points by darxius on May 12, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

I participate in the SO community a lot (I'm top answer-er for the Canvas tag and HTML5 tag). It's not quite a "community", though, because while I have a lot of respect for the other answer-ers I don't really get to interact with them very much, aside from complimenting a novel solution and the like. I sort of wish there were more methods for interaction (the chat channels don't help that much for niche tags).

And while my interaction with askers is always fleeting, I'd really like to thank them for all their support. At the end of the day their words are the only encouragement I need:


I don't feel the same about SO not being a community.

Even though I'm not a very active member, I'm in contact with quite a few people I got to know from SO and even met some in person.

In my opinion it's just that communication doesn't happen mainly on SO itself. As far as I understood the discussion (more methods for interaction have been suggested since the beginning of SO) this is deliberate.

The problem is mainly that chat.SO sucks in a lot of ways and probably should be reduced to a single room where all SO regulars who have time to chat do chat - together. That's the way pretty much all other sites do chat (including MSO) and it's... saner. I just don't know how much it'd scale.

That doesn't work for interest-specific communities. HTML5-ers, Java-ers, and haskell-ers will probably not talk about the same topics with each other as they would with other people that share their interests, as in their own interest-specific community.

Isn't that why on freenode, you have communities based around particular langauges? #java, #haskell, #html5, etc. etc? Not to mention social versions, like #haskell-blah and what have you.

It really does feel great to have an answer accepted, you get something similar to that feeling of "ahh this is fixed, finally!".

I am a tex.stackexchange.com regular and I really like the community. It is a small community but/therefore quite some people meet on a regular basis, the (local) TUG conferences. I agree very much with the "thank you sx" note.

StackOverflow is a watershed website. There are very few websites I can go without and StackOverflow is, without a doubt, one of them.

It is difficult to remember the dark ages where every question I typed into Google would link to Expert Exchange and it was a coin flip on whether you'd find your answer.

Very much like GitHub was the tipping point for social coding, StackOverflow was the tipping point for social problem solving about programming.

StackOverflow and GitHub weren't the first websites of their kind but they were the ones that executed it almost flawlessly.

It's funny. I remember when Spolsky first announced the idea for the site and the vast majority of the reactions I read were people poo-pooing it since there were so many seemingly similar things already. I take that as a big lesson: if there is a crowded market, but no one doing it well, that is the best possible opportunity.

Do you mean "can't go without"?

Except for your second sentence you are praising StackOverflow.

Yup you are correct Jimmie. Unfortunate that I cannot go back and edit it.

Actually prior to the dark ages most programming answers (for me at least) were to be found on the Deja USENET archives.

No thanks from me. The no discussions rule means the only questions on the site are the trivial questions that could be answered by reading some documentation. If questions are broad or open ended, the value lies in the discussion, not in any particular answer. I also found that many accepted answers are blatantly wrong, or encourage very poor practice. Sure, the StackExchange network is better than experts-exchange or quora, in the sense that's a much better implementation of a concept, but I believe there's just very little value in that concept.

Likewise. I usually only end up searching the web-in-general for answers when the product documentation doesn't help. When that's led me to stackexchange, more often than not the threads asking my exact question have been closed as "too general" or similar.

The most recent example, in my case, was:


"Can anybody recommend some [PHP] programs for me to look at, that promote best practises, but are simple enough for me to understand?"

"closed as not a real question; It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. [no it's not] This question is ambiguous [nope], vague [no], incomplete [er, no], overly broad [no], or rhetorical [still no] and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form [no again]. See the FAQ for guidance on how to improve it [mmm, passive-agression]."

... er, WTF guys? Given the minefield that is trying to write good PHP, it's a very good question. A couple of good answers had, I note, already been given, which puts the lie to the mods' reasoning -- but they killed it off anyway, even though it was showing promise? Really?

Reeks of power-tripping or jobsworthy moderation to me.

In my opinion, that IS an ambiguous question. Not in the sense that it's hard to understand approximately what you're looking for, but that it's not obvious how to choose the right answers. I agree that this kind of moderation can be a bit heavy-handed, but I think one of the goals of SO is to have provably correct solutions to questions, not an "answer wiki" like Quora. You can't really "accept the right answer" to this question in any fair way.

I wouldn't say "ambiguous". I'll grant you "subjective".

Does stackexchange forbid questions where there's an element of opinion, because the system's set up only for questions with "one right answer"? That seems awfully restrictive in the name of a system limitation.

Especially as, as 4ad observed, the asker chooses an incorrect answer annoyingly often -- so the "best answer" isn't always actually the best. As such, it's advisable to at least flick through the other answers anyway, despite this rule.

No, opinion is welcome (on Stack Exchange, not necessarily on Stack Overflow) but it needs to be backed up by research or fact.

That's not the problem on the sample question.

> You can't really "accept the right answer" to this question in any fair way.

I see that as the issue - that there has to be one answer. It's a site that promotes the same issue that plagues reddit, the hunger for karma.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The mods are power crazed and addicted to closing questions. If people are answering, and upvoting those answers, or the question, then the question is worthy and shouldn't be closed. End of story.

SO is still awesome, but flawed. And their mod system suffers from the same problem that has plagued every mod'ed site: mod convergence, essentially turning the site into their own echo chamber, and stagnating it.

It also seems like they have a lot of help vampires as I see many questions where the correct answer doesn't have even a single upvote.

The post has two other questions:

what are the best practices when it comes to PHP?

And are there recommended ways of tackling certain task?

And these are, I believe, ambiguous, vague and overly broad (not to mention subjective).

Also the third question, the one you quote, is actually a yes/no question that would be pointless to answer. So, assuming that's not the real question... what is? I believe it IS difficult to tell what is being asked here.

StackExchange is just not meant for discussion, I think. At last not as it is right now.

The one I quoted is a yes/no question only if you ignore the norm of answering "Can anybody recommend [thing]?" as if it were "What examples of [thing] do you know of?". That's obviously the intention behind the question -- if you asked your waiter "Can you recommend a wine?", and s/he replied only "yes", that'd make hir both pedantic and deliberately unhelpful.

And the existence of the other questions is beside the point -- the title of the question is "Good examples of PHP code for an intermediate PHPer?", the body is merely exposition. I only quoted the equivalent question from the body because it had better grammar than the title.

Discussion is only tolerated insofar as it allows refinement (and editing for improvement) of the question and the answers. Discussion in and of itself is not the goal; getting a verifiably great answer to your question -- even if you didn't ask it -- is!

At Stack Exchange, we do science in the small. Bite-size, fun-size units of science that shouldn't feel like work, but collectively build something amazing for a community of people who love a particular topic.

Science in the small is an oxymoron, I guess. Any scientific issue start with a good question that has no straightforward answer.

SE is not meant to be a replacement for reddit or traditional forums. If you want to have discussion by all means have discussion. Just don't do it on SE because SE wasn't made for discussion.

Just because echo doesn't read from files doesn't mean it's useless. If you need to read from files you just use cat instead. Sure, you can coerce both to do the other's job, but it'll be messy and only work half the time and other people will be annoyed at you. Different solutions for different needs.

It's not the software it's the community. Here's the exact same software with a community that tolerates a list: http://mathoverflow.net/questions/4994/fundamental-examples

That said the community+software is good at what it does. I can be sad it's intolerant of lists without needing to disparage it further.

It's really the software. It isn't made to host lists. Votes on lists are historically on the item (OMG YES JQUERY!!!!!), not on the answer (You should use jQuery because a. b. c. d.), and that isn't how the rest of the site works.

Besides in a Q&A network, a "list question" has "list answers" where every "answer" is a "list", rather than an item of that list. Even that doesn't really work because that's not historically the way the site is actually used.

See also the following for the rationale:


The problem is that the quality of participants/knowledge on the discussion sites simply isn't as good as SE.

No knock on SE. Quite the opposite.

But I frequently have questions that aren't SE style questions, and I wish I knew where to take them for such intelligent and informed responses.

The theory (a very sound one, based on internal observation) is that the strict "answers, not discussion" format is what attracts and retains high quality participants.

I really strongly believe that it's an either/or proposition, you either get discussion or you get quality answers to questions. Discussion "sucks the air out", so to speak.

And since there are already so many places for discussion on the internet, it's better for us to focus on Q&A.

I do not think "no discussion" rule is enforced to mean no any discussion at all. I have routinely seen and participated in discussing merits of certain answers, and nobody minded. The premise is however that there is a right answer to the question and it is knowable and findable, not just a matter of opinion that can be debated endlessly. Yes, some questions do not fit - but many questions that are complicated enough for me that I could not find it by myself without wasting a lot of time - do fit. Documentation is very different format - it usually shows you what tools you have, but not how to use them. Compare "here's a hammer, it is used to drive in nails" to "how do I hammer in a nail that is slightly crooked into a concrete wall?" or "Can I put a nail into a porcelain tile without breaking it?". The docs probably won't answer such questions.

When you go to the public pool, you don't complain about not being able to play golf, do you?

StackExchange is a Q&A community website. Although sometimes discussion would be appreciated, it is not what it was meant for. And by all means, if you find an accepted answer to be wrong, downvote and comment it! The whole point of StackExchange websites is to rate questions and answers!

I think the person is simply frustrated because he realizes that StackExchange could be so much better. I quit a few years ago when they changed all question upvotes to be only worth 5 points, but rejoined about a year and a half ago because it's still the best existing option.

When asking questions, I try to make them good enough so that other people will find them useful in the future, and it's great when I get a like-minded answer. Some examples:



Still, I think StackOverflow could be taken up a notch to allow more collaboration and organization. Also, wouldn't it be great to be able to provide runnable source code in some sort of git archive? For some languages like Javascript the code in the questions/answers could be in something like http://jsfiddle.net

Ideally, a group of people could pick any topic and essentially write several books (beginner and advanced) by asking lots of questions. At least that was my initial belief. Say, for example, you wanted to learn elisp, and you typed: "Hello world in emacs", well I've got that answered:


I didn't quite get a book with Elisp, but I did throw down quite a few breadcrumbs:

CGI: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1532311/cgi-programming-i...

AWK Example: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2260294/awk-print-2-1-in-...

Extract URLs: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1642184/extracting-urls-f...

Parse CSV/Gen HTML: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1541682/lisp-script-to-pa...

Wrap Selection like Textmate: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1558178/wrap-selection-in...

MySql (Unanswered): http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1532365/mysql-queries-fro...

Generate a Quiz: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2264286/generating-a-quiz...

Open Browser: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1532365/mysql-queries-fro...

Generate a Quiz (Common Lisp): http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2264267/generating-a-quiz...




Once you are asking questions beyond a certain level at SO it is impossible to get a correct answer; instead you will get conjectures from people who don't know what they are doing.

I saw authors, maintainers of some projects answer questions related to their projects on SO.

stackexchange is to solve problems not answer questions.

Can a dog have the Bhudda nature - is a good question but it's not really a problem.

How do I connect to a wifi network without an SSID in Ubuntu is a problem - even if it is a less good question

Nope, we're here to answer questions. Can a dog have the Buddha nature is argumentative, and as far as I know would be off-topic since there is no Buddha site. However, "Can a dog be saved and go to heaven" would be closer to being on-topic, since there is a christianity.se. Make sense?

I can definitely relate with the feeling described. I too got the "prize" from Unix&Linux.SE. The hand signed letter by Spolsky definitely had a strong effect. I felt proud like a child receiving a gold star in kindergarden.

A piece of advice for all the startup/business founders here on HN. When you send personalized communication to your users, be it a personal email, or something as superficial as putting your handwritten signature on a bunch of papers, you make us very happy.

As a frequent user of the general WWW, I could not recommend enough you do this.

The same goes for recruiting.

I'm a student at Penn State which is a ranked CS school, but not necessarily Stanford or MIT. I noticed a stack of Fog Creek recruiting pamphlets in the lobby to our CS building. Inside each one was a signed letter from Joel. Students are inundated with literature at career fairs and events, but this was the only one I read entirely and then saved.

Based on various stories that popped up due to this blog post I'm starting to suspect either Joel has an Autopen or an intern that does nothing but sign his name on things.

Could he really be signing letters sent out in "stacks"? One would assume that many more schools than just Penn State got such stacks. And then on top of that he's sending out hundreds of these hand-signed letters to top members of all the different new SE sites?

Even if he isn't really signing each personally, there's still a good message here, but I'm now curious as to whether or not he's really signing all that stuff.

Hi there, I'm the author of the post.

I couldn't agree more with your comment. I liked the letter so much I put it in a frame I had lying around and I mounted it on my wall. I think a lot of startups should heed your advice and provide this same kind of "WOW" service. Letting your users know you respect them can go a long way for a company that really means it.

How did they go about doing this. Did they send you an email saying they needed your address in order to mail you a letter or did they already have your address? If they did send a request, it must have taken away the surprise factor a little bit.

I just signed up to http://math.stackexchange.com today to ask a question and ended getting a lesson from a guy who had answered my question but invited me into chat to fully explain it.

So awesome.

I received a similar package from my participation in the English Language and Usage site (I was a temporary moderator there while the site was in beta). The letter that came with it had several intentional mistakes noted with copy-editing marks, which I thought was a nice touch.

The T-shirt, however, un-intentionally misspelled the site's name (see http://meta.english.stackexchange.com/q/1926); they sent out another batch of shirts several weeks later, so I now have both a good shirt and a special limited-edition shirt.

They are the best programming and general technology questions and answers anywhere by far. Discussions are not tolerated, nor are open-ended questions, but if you need to know the most efficient way to do X in language Y, then look no farther than stackoverflow.

A bit off-topic but: what are good discussion/open-ended questions sites (software development specific)?

I believe that http://programmers.stackexchange.com/ was introduced for this.

A lot of questions were migrated from SO to programmers when it started.

Nah, they don't like discussions there either... Check out the FAQ: http://programmers.stackexchange.com/faq

I prefer programmers.stackexchange.com and really want to contribute more, but the heavy handed closing of questions gors on there and it's really putting me off.

I think HN is a reasonable place for that.

Yes, thank you.

SO opened up programming to the masses by treating knowledge as something to be shared and not something to be hidden.

Again, thank you.

Stack Overflow helped me to finish up a facebook app. Prior to that project I had never worked on Fb apps. After having initial requirements by clients, I googled about the main features of the project and found answers about their implementation. I gave a demo to the client and he approved my bid. The rest of the project also completed by posting a few questions.

Without SO It was not possible for me to earn a project. Thanks Joel!

Yeah StackOverflow is a Godsend that helps people. It's really great that good people set out to fix the formerly closed door landscape that was dominated by companies like ExpertExchange.

I seriously doubt I would have had as much progress with trying my hand at programming if it hadn't been for the SE community. Very helpful.

I found it particularly valuable for iOS development. Even if it didn't solve my problem straight away, it pointed me in the right direction.

You can pay $300/hour to a statistics consultant, and you would be lucky if the consultant gave you the quality of responses I frequently see for free on stats.stackexchange.com.

> 41 different SE sites

Wow, didn't know that there are so many different SE sites, thought there's just one.

Anyway SE, its Q&A system and the community are just incredible.

There's a complete list on http://stackexchange.com/sites; there are actually way more than 41 sites in the SE network.

So is SE the better Quora?

It's much more focused on: 1) specific technical questions; that 2) plausibly have a good answer. Quora is a more general Q&A site, where you can ask questions on pretty much any subject, and can ask open-ended/discussion type questions as well.

There appears to be a trend of sites creating micro communities. Reddit have done something similar. Quora does it.

The SE guys do a podcast which gives an insight into their business.

I received a portfolio from stackoverflow careers yesterday!

I'm a college student and was in dire need of a portfolio for future interviews (the SO logo on the front is an awesome touch). The surprise package made my day.


Hand signing, the real-world equivalent of proof of work.

I suddenly expected something like a financial package as present somehow; am too naive. that said, stack exchange is really life saver.

There can be a bit of that as well. I got the swag from both english.SE (both the "stackchange" and "stackexchange" tee-shirt as mentioned elsewhere in this thread) and photo.SE (logo tee-shirt and a logo Spudz lens cloth), along with the two Joel-signed letters, a bunch of stickers and Sharpies and such, but that's not always where it ends.

Photo.SE, for instance, has a program where one can be reimbursed for equipment rentals if you write a review/how-to of the equipment for the blog (with prior approval). Of course, only one person gets the nod for any given item, but it's a great way to try a new lens or piece of studio equipment at little or no cost, and provides an educational resource for the community at the same time. It's not a program that scales well—very few of the other SE sites are nearly as focused on tools (pardon the pun)—but it's definitely the kind of touch that makes SE different. Others will (partially) reimburse for conference attendance and that sort of thing, provided that you've made a significant contribution to the site and come back with the goods.

It's just token stuff in the grand scheme of things (the odd fifty bucks here or a hundred bucks there, and not very often) but those are the kinds of tokens that make a difference.

WTF?? No clawhammerbanjo.stackexchange.com??? No thanks from me, stackexchange sux!


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