As an aside, I have to say spolsky that SO has made a real, measurable impact on my life. The number of times I type my query site:stackoverflow.com into google is higher than any other site.
it's understandable being defensive. but maybe that reflex is causing you to miss something?
[edit: also, how do you measure evaporative cooling?]
Humans are inherently social, and the amount of effort SO staff and moderators have to go to trying to stamp that out is a sign that SO really is a social network.
I always think it's a bad sign when product designers think they know much better than their users what they want. I think that's what killed Friendster. I think that's why Google Plus is kinda sad and sterile. If you're going to go to all the trouble of making a product for people, I'd rather you listened to them from time to time.
It's a balancing act. What people actually want, and what they think they want, are often two different hings.
In the link, you seem to be basically making a slippery slope argument. I am sure a lot of people agree that they don't want a sea of memes. But a lot of reasonable people feel you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. A modestly subjective question like "What are the relative merits of frameworks X, Y, and Z?" is not anything like a rage comic. Neither is a reasonable discussion on programming mistakes.
Your "opportunity cost" argument strikes me as entirely wrongheaded. You pretend there are only two things people can do in the world: subjective questions and the objective ones. Your worry that a topic expert is spending 10 minutes on something he enjoys rather than the thing you want him to do is paternalistic and controlling. Every real community bonds not just over the practical stuff, but the fun stuff. It's as if you're saying that Golden Gate Park should be removed because those people should be out picking up trash or working to pay taxes.
If you want to make an analogy to a place of learning, consider a college campus. People are encouraged to do things there beyond studying. Areas are set aside just for having fun. That kind of community bonding doesn't take away from education; it enhances and supports it.
Also, nobody here is arguing that SO should be a place of pure entertainment. As far as I can tell, that's a straw man. Or perhaps more accurately, the imaginary bogeyman SO is fleeing.
Should I submit the same question to SO instead?
Saying that our definition of the topic is wrong, does not mean you aren't asking for off-topic questions to be allowed. It's the same thing.
However, look at what you're saying. You've divided the world into us and them. It's you, the defender of the one true definition, versus the ignorant outsider fools. It's utterly close-minded.
It's your bat and ball, naturally, so you're welcome to keep on driving off the people who have different views. But don't go around saying you listen to your users when you talk like this.
> ...throw out the gazillion-sub-site silliness and broaden allowed topics for discussion.
There is a disagreement about which topics should be allowed. Broaden means increase the number of topics considered to be on topic. He understands your definition of "on topic"; he just thinks it makes for a poor user experience. And I agree with him.
The problem here is that you and others confuse your view of "off topic for Stack Overflow" with some sort of universal truth. You get away with that not because you're right in some academic sense but because you have the power to drive off people with differing views.
My point, and I think his, is that the ever-narrowing topic definitions may be what the participating community wants, but it is driving off people with different ideas.
If you're happy with that, fine. But insisting that outsiders aren't allowed to comment on it is just another symptom of the drive for orthodoxy that I think is ruining it in the first place.
If you guys are happy to lose users in that fashion, by all means keep asserting that the only way you'll listen is if people put the right cover on their TPS report and submit it to the proper forum.
Whether you like it or not, SE users and former users are going to keep on discussing SE policies where they please. You guys can learn from it and even engage with it. Or you can just keep defining it as illegitimate, putting your hands over your ears, and going "la la la".
If the community and/or SE's owners are interested in serving the public, then they should engage with people where they are. Some of those people are on SE; most aren't. That's especially true for people who have gotten fed up with SE and left.
It's not my job to fix SE's brokenness. Nor is it that of the blogger whose article is linked at the top. Making SE better is the job of SE's owners and moderators. So if somebody should be putting forth extra effort here, it isn't the people who have never used or have given up on Stack Exchange. And even if it somehow should be those people, it won't be, no matter how much you suggest otherwise.
Personally, there's no way I'm going to go put my ideas in front of the SE community. From my experience there and the behavior of SE reps in this article, I have no reason to believe anybody will do anything but argue until I leave. I'm a little sad to think that SE's on the slow road to doom, but I've got better things to do then to try to sweep back that particular tide with my very modest broom.
I'm glad this guy's complaints got some attention by staff and volunteers at SE, but that's only because it got to the front page of HN. How many others are out there that will never be found? Post them in the right place and people will read them.
SO is pretty rigid about what they want. That's a good thing - their servers, their rules. Firm guidelines allow users to find either post useful questions, or find some other site.
Except, that's not what happens. Someone asks a question that's a lousy fit for the SE format; and people like it, and upvote it and answer it and the answers get upvotes. Then some mod comes along and closes it, and there's a bunch of negative feeling.
SO is huge, and needs constant tending to keep it useful. Cool urls don't change, but when Mark Pilgrim (who has a gajillion urls over SE) leaves the Internet there's a gajillion urls that need to be found and changed. (No, I have no idea why a site run by programmers, for programmers, can't kludge together a script to search for and replace urls.) That's one small example. There are plenty of other examples.
Then there's the "problem" of duplicate answers. Ideally, there would be one great question, with a bunch of answers, with the best answer being upvoted most and the answer most fitting being accepted. But very few people searches before asking, and all the tags are not useful, so there are a lot of duplicates. That could be okay, except the dupes are usually worse quality than one great question. And the answers lose quality over time - there's only so many times that someone is going to write a great answer.
Then the gamification is broken on some of the sites. You start off almost unable to make any contribution, and people with low scores do not get the upvotes. (This guy with a million votes must know what he's talking about, UPVOTE.) In theory you could concentrate on an obscure segment. In practice not much on SO is obscure because there are so many users.
The fragmentation is a bigger problem, I think. I want to ask a question about linux software, on my Ubuntu install. Already there are two different SE's I could ask on. There could be more depending on the software. This is a more vicious form of the duplicates problem.
The proliferation of SEs into ever more niche segments is okay, I think. They either sink or swim. Lousy for you if you've invested time and effort into something that sinks.
There is definitely a niche for a subjective version though. All those questions that peope love to ask, and answer. ("What's your favorite monspace font?" "What are your 3 most important programming pearls of wisdom?" "What book did you find most useful when you started, and what is most useful today?" etc etc. Obviously, versions of these questions exist in reddit and /prog/ and news:comp.* and etc etc.
FWIW I love the SE sites, and I love the fierce moderation. I've disagreed with it at times, and certainly with the cold way it gets implemented. But I'm glad SE exists. I just wish I knew a where I could ask different questions and have them seen by a huge crowd of clueful users.
http://programmers.stackexchange.com/ -- for conceptual, no-source-code whiteboard programming questions
http://workplace.stackexchange.com/ -- for questions about general professional workplace issues that aren't specific to programming
And of course the rest of the sites at
I'll be the first to tell you that our Q&A engine isn't necessarily effective at every topic. It's primarily effective at technical-ish topics where there can be somewhat definitive answers backed by a bit of research. That's still a pretty big chunk of the world, e.g.:
The ghettoization of stack-exchange was a mistake. Give me an interface more like reddit - let me pick which areas I want to see questions from, all merged on to one page.
Click the "Filtered Questions" link at the top to customize it.
In fact, in terms of my actual daily "rotation" of sites, there are exactly 3: Reddit, HN, and Gmail.
I absolutely want to visit less sites. Stack-Exchange as a product for me would have significantly more value to me as an integrated network, rather than the current mish-mash of partitioned off sites. Let me search all questions, let all questions (in tags I don't have filtered, and of subject areas I've added) appear in my questions list.
That, and the fact that the SO/Programmers distinction is rather confusing and unnecessary in my opinion.
Granted this is Google's algorithm's fault not SOs problem. There is no reason to give a single site the first n listings no matter how authoritative it has become (and SO is very authoritative now).
How has your Net Promoter Score changed? Do you do surveys with questions like, "How disappointed would you be if Stack Overflow went away tomorrow?" How does attrition of users with at least 3 upvoted answers look over time?
I wouldn't expect the metrics you mention to capture the sort of user satisfaction issues, and I could see the above numbers not showing a problem because general growth is masking specific issues. I'm sure you can name quite a number of products whose quality decline started well before popularity peaked.
That's actually what Stack Exchange is about, so it's not surprising I guess that there's this impedance mismatch. If you want to just have a bunch of opinions, take it to Quora.
If you want to see if he has evidence, try asking him. And not in a "it's your job to argue with me" way. Call him up on the phone, ask open questions, and then listen to the answers without being demanding or dismissive like you are here.
That's a pretty basic product management skill. If it's something you're not familiar with, plenty of people teach classes. I know the Luxr folks do a good job, for example.
its really quality not quantity and my subjective opinion of the appeal of the site(s).
Why did you shut down the old JoS forum?
Our best guess is lots of people taking vacations offsetting growth, on the 3 year graph you'll notice growth resumes sometime around September every year.
I honestly don't care* too much about it, we're in the business of quality questions and answers; traffic is a side effect, not a goal.
(Disclaimer, SE Inc. Employee etc. etc.)
*Provided it's high enough to pay the bills naturally, which isn't that hard to do.
I'm a semi-competent programmer with a few thousand SO reputation (or whatever it's called). Every question I have ever asked there has gone unanswered or has been answered insufficiently.
The moderators are also awful. They manage the community in a very autistic fashion - quality questions with quality answers get closed because they are slightly subjective, which completely obliterates the community feeling.
Or recommendations to books/reading/tools etc.
I pride myself in answering some of the trickier questions in my domain, ie http://stackoverflow.com/q/10060242/154112
Those are easily the questions I feel the best about after answering, and really they generate the best encouragement by far. Much better than points is seeing this: http://i.imgur.com/POZmt.png
But compare the score of that tricky question to this very recent one, where both the question and answer garnered a lot of upvotes because the title was "why are my balls disappearing": http://stackoverflow.com/q/11066050/154112
Even with a bounty on the tricky question, hounding flippant questions can garner you more "reputation" far faster than giving thoughtful replies to hard questions, which can be a little disheartening.
Yeah, this. It hurts my eyes to see that most of my rep on SO I got from A) Recommending the K&R for a starters' C book, and B) for explaining how the @ works for error message suppression in PHP.
While the numerous questions I answered that took actual experience and hard work, hardly ever get an upvote, let alone an 'accept', presumably because whoever asked it doesn't care enough about the issue to do the work required to solve a hard problem, even if the principles are handed to him.
This is one of the main reasons I hardly use SO anymore, myself.
The best tools do not limit their usage patterns, and communities adapt and evolve to make these tools solve their problems.
These aren't always the same problems that the creators of the system or moderators intended to be solved.
So moderators kill the potential utility of a tool.
One of those potentials (now referring back to SO) is the unification of people with a shared interest in a programming language or knowledge domain.
Without community, why should a user invest in it?
So I assert (overly simplistically) that moderators kill communities.
The very moderation which detracts from the community feeling is what's keeping the quality of the site up and helping create a valuable permanent resource on the Internet, which is our primary goal. Like Wikipedia, strict rules are what lead to a valuable artifact. Stack Overflow's rules and values are not intended to create a warm and cuddly discussion area for long-winding, far-reaching conversations, social networking, and "community" whatever that means. They are intended to create a body of precise questions and answers which are peer-reviewed, editable, and high-quality that you can search with Google.
Speaking as a Wikipedia admin, you're replicating a mistake that I think has harmed Wikipedia immensely without mirroring one of the key safety valves.
Wikipedia has a problem that's well-known in the community: active participants are burning out, editor activity is stagnant, and the existing social environment is very off-putting to newbies. Petty enforcement of petty rules, an obsession with particular notions of quality, and a lot of behavior that seems to the uninitiated like high-handed dickishness.
But one of Wikipedia's saving graces is this core policy: "If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it." It reminds people that rules are the tail, not the dog.
With Wikipedia, strict rules aren't what leads to a valuable artifact. it's that a lot of people care about creating the world's best reference work together. They understand very clearly that it's the community that produces the encyclopedia. The rules are just there to record community consensus, and to help newbies think things through.
Questions certainly feel "worse" than they did 2 years ago when I first started following SO.
Way more "homework" or "newbie south-east Asian programmer asking for THE CODEZ" type questions than there ever was back in the day.
I'm not really sure how you fix that, although slightly raising the barrier to entry (perhaps require they at least pick a username?) might help reduce the "drive bys" who ask a poor question, and never accept an answer.
In short, SO is becoming a Mechanical Turk for searching for answers to software questions, and the reason is because Google is becoming less and less useful (as it tries to be more and more helpful) for searching for answers to software questions.
I don't know how that fits into the long-term goals of SO.
That is where the crowd is, mediocre programmers are plenty and they won't be asking expert questions either. They need hand holding at every step. And if you could answer all they question they have, you could serve a huge crowd.
On other hand, asking expert questions may make you an awesome site. But the target audience is to little.
Because number of people needing answers to expert questions themselves are scanty.
+1 aha this!
This is really the root cause perhaps?
This is why Joel and the chap whose own code is a horror are here talking quantity in reply to a blog post about quality perhaps?
What? Wikipedia's strict rules (really, a hideous mish mash of conflicting obscure scattered policy and guideline and suggestion and essay and convention) detract from the purpose of getting information about a subject from a variety of trusted sources into an article about that subject.
See, for example, the amount of time that goes into deciding whether to allow someone to have a username consisting of a bunch of digits or not. (Such a user name is "confusing". But what is it confused with? It's not confusing by itself. The policy is to prevent people using names that imply power. and so on for several megabytes, several times a year.) And then, when the community has taken several months (at a short time estimate) to agree on a policy they realise that the software has hard-coded limits which are different to the policy anyway. So it all starts again.
SO's mods are doing a good, but difficult job.
Wikipedia's admins, New Page Patrollers, Anti-Vandal Patrol, Recent Change Patrol, twinkle user, rollback user, are doing an inconsistent job.
I'll agree that I'm pretty anti the current WP experience.
Suitable for informing a junior code monkey working to someone else's plan. Yes, we all understand this. Yes, we agree it is useful.
But junior code monkeys grow and learn. On their way to becoming a senior software engineer, they will ask a question like "how do I solve such and such problem with a Ruby hash" and the answer is "you probably don't want to--take the stakeholder to lunch and do some requirements analysis, then come back and we'll help you solve the systems architecture problem that you will have just discovered".
This answer will be expunged by the moderators for being subjective and argumentative. Yes, of course it is. The most valuable questions about software creation have to do with purpose and architecture. Software creators are people who need mentoring, not robots looking for answers from autistic oracles.
I have no objection to putting only objective questions on the standard view. It's expedient for people who need to learn some detail right now. It will get more eyeballs, more Google juice, and more monetization. But there is no need to delete subjective questions when they can be trivially tagged and filtered off into another view.
(I actually will sometimes answer the original question if it's not too involved or impossible, and include a note along the lines of "See this? This is why it sucks for what you want to do.")
There's nothing wrong with having focus. Moderators do often prevent communities from growing as much as they otherwise would, but so will any filter that keeps quality high by some metric that isn't "Do we get the most readers possible?" In Stack Overflow's case, a large part of its utility is that it's a no-messing-around question and answer site. Being "the unification of people with a shared interest in a programming language or knowledge domain" is not the site's goal any more than hosting funny pictures of cats is, so no surprise that the moderators kill that potential.
I do think they draw the line a little closer than I would and a lot of stuff they kill I would think it's OK to allow, but that's just armchair quarterbacking. The broad strokes of what they do seems like a good thing.
More, that communities evolve and the demographics change. And as the demographics change, the needs and demands grow more diverse. Sure the fundamental core need that unified people remains, but new needs emerge.
The problem with empowering the core to be moderators is that they enforce their idea of the what the community should be based on their use at the time. This means that they're excluding new uses, and more specifically that new demographics would use the tools provided in unexpected ways... thus revealing the new needs. But if moderators prevent the use of tools in unexpected ways... then you not only don't discover the new needs of the community, but you send a message to that new demographic of users that they aren't wholly welcome (on the users terms).
And to in part respond to spolsky, I've immense respect for you and SO and what it's achieved (thank you for saving me from expertsexchange). So I know you've probably already got ideas and views on how to react to the evolution of the community.
I would say one thing... I recall someone posting on HN a while ago a picture of an org structure... it might even be related to where you are. And in this org structure the pyramid was inverted, managers were merely admin to engineers.
This is what I believe moderators should be. That moderators should be led, rather than lead.
Moderators are there to protect the community from itself, as described in http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/01/the-trouble-with-popul...
It's a tough job. But if you disagree with the way the moderation works, bring it up on meta, and/or run for the position of moderator in the next election.
How many other sites offer either of those options?
You talk about there being other forums, like programming. or whatever else... Well, moderators should move the question instead of closing it. Why not do a mass query for these high-upvote yet moderator-closed questions on SO and move them to whatever other forum? Why gag the community for the sake of moderator ego?
Anyway. I gave up on the idea of proving I am a good programmer by participating and pumping up my SO score. Participation in SO is painful, moderators destroy good will. It seems they have an antenna that detects good discussion about programming and they step into it and destroy it.
So my response is: I don't care anymore. I certainly won't bring it up on meta, enough ignoring the userbase was done on there before when SE flip-flopped from for-profit, give us your money to "we'll dictate what q/a sites can be created" for me to go back and expect any consideration.
So no. For me SO is a great place to find answers by informed people on several topics, but it's not a place to invest yourself.
Anyway, just one less user for SO.
So either the site visitors are mostly stupid and cannot follow directions (see the number of votes on everything mentioned in that closed, "not constructive" thread), or Joel and you are forcing SE sites into an inferior subset of what the visitors actually want.
Perhaps a fix to create an incentive to answer hard questions would be to create a ratio to estimate difficulty (how much time has gone by without an accepted or high-voted answer? number of views that don't add a good answer?) and then give more reward points to someone who successfully answers a "hard" question.
It feels slightly weird to be forced to employ such a tactic, but at SO's scale it might just be necessary.
I continued to improve the post, including the feedback from downvoters. However, I had to flag the post to have a mod reopen the question and none of the downvoters have returned to modify their vote.
It's annoying to end up with negative feedback after attempting to be helpful and taking time to improve a post. Maybe encourage closers to come back after a post is reopened?
For reference, the post: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/10748274/faces-are-black-...
main trouble with this is that some simple, dumb answer may have been marked correct by then.
I do wonder to what extent it's possible to participate meaningfully on Stack Overflow with those goals completely separated.
The reason they stick to this system: They prefer people answering quickly. This is the perfect incentive to get people to answer ASAP.
And to the argument "but I have a much better, more thought out answer", most people will say "Yes, but I want my answer now. I don't care about the history behind git, I want to know how to stage removed files".
Now there are a larger number of answerers and a bigger pool of people wanting/needing to gain rep by writing the quickest (but not necessarily correct) answer. This leads to a state where people don't bother clicking on questions with an answer on the front page - because they are already 'behind' in the race
All subjective questions are expected to be constructive. How do we define that? Constructive subjective questions:
-inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
-tend to have long, not short, answers.
-have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
-invite sharing experiences over opinions.*
another way of looking at this is that originally i could design my own filter (via tags) to select what i wanted to answer. but increasingly that is being done for me by mods, and what i find interesting (which tends to be "harder" questions that are cross-discipline) is sent elsewhere. meanwhile, other people are complaining that harder questions are not answered.
i guess they may go full circle and provide a way to combine from multiple sites in a single interface...
and i guess you can argue that what they have now - many fragmented sites - is a better fit to (and a response to) the problem they used to have when there were still many simple/easy questions to ask. they're late solving the problem they had and, at the same time, are making worse the problem they have which is too few eyeballs on the complex problems.
That wouldn't be so bad if SO didn't try to keep your user accounts for each site separate. I really don't want or need one account per site, or the constant barrage of "welcome back" animations and all that crap. Now I just ignore any site that I don't already have an account on.
I will grant SO that you always know when you are being moderated; Hacker News and Quora does this more surreptitiously, which is more infuriating by an order of magnitude.
They might as well just hide the points. After all, people only post on the site to help others - not to discuss matters like on Hacker News - so biting the hand that feeds you in this way seems self-defeating.
Note that voting isn't the only thing than ranks answers. They also have some subtle reputation system going on.
Having been a Wikipedia admin, I'd say Quora's doing a reasonable job. Moderation always feels arbitrary to people on the receiving end of it. And bureaucratic, too, if more than a few people do the moderating.
Nothing is more frustrating than finding a google result to SO, clicking through, and arriving at a 404. Nothing is more frustrating that searching for that great answer I read last year and not being able to find it because the question has been deleted. These are often questions that have been kicking around for 4 years, and, well, gone.
Of course, if you have enough SO points, then you probably don't care whether you've deleted a question, you can still see them.
While we're at it, SOers have always been, and are increasingly... well, jerks! If you are a new programmer, then of course your question will have incomplete information, because you don't know how to ask a good question yet. So stop downvoting into oblivion, please, and give people a little bit of time to acclimate and improve their question before closing.
I am in the top 10% of SO users as measured by points (lol.) What can I do, as a community member and hacker, to fix these things?
On the one hand, it's wonderful that both SO and Wikipedia are "well-kept gardens":
On the other hand, at some point both communities struggle with being inclusive and welcoming.
Maybe Joel is right though, and the two goals are mutually exclusive? I personally hope that they're not, but don't have any examples to point to that are successful on the level of Wikipedia or StackOverflow.
(The other was how much of a pain they make it to get started if you're new - one can look at the comments here and see that those kind of shenanigans are mostly unnecessary)
When you're killing off high-quality content because it "doesn't fit the format", perhaps the format needs to change.
Mods don't really set policy they enforce it, and most "Is this kind of question ontopic here?" style scope-adjusment can be done on meta.
However, here's one that bugged me:
I thought it was a great question and set of answers. I only know it's gone because I linked it from my personal website as I was proud of my answer. Eventually somebody contacted me to say, "Hey, your site is broken." So not only did some jackass delete a popular set of questions and answers, they did it without warning and with no apparent way to recover the lost work.
That was my "Fuck you, I'm done," moment for Stack Overflow.
Which is better? I don't know. I personally haven't used either one in a while, because they don't seem to work well if you're not using a mainstream programming language. Google still wins for me here, since the right answer is very frequently on some random person's blog.
False dichotomy. How about having moderation that operates off of a flexible (and public, and non subjective) set of rules?
/r/programming sucks because of the lack of moderation.
Stack* sucks because of heavy handed moderation.
FYI: An SO user has recently setup an unofficial archive of deleted SO questions, ranked in order of votes ...
This was my experience as a contributor (one of the top 10) to Literature SE. The mods were very harsh and basically killed the site (or at least drove off most of us contributors).
Both question and answer quality declined dramatically in tandem with the rise of "rules".
Months later I was still in the top 10 contributors. Answers had declined to single sentences.
Now I logged in and noticed it has been closed down (and much of the content migrated to SciFi SE) due to lack of participation. I am not surprised.
At least some of my answers will survive.
(here's one early question where it was poorly asked, we wrote some good answers and worked with the questioner to focus the question - http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/16106/what-are-the-... This attitude disappeared within very short time)
Right, so we study math for the twin reasons of wanting to learn mathematical language and wanting to understand our place in the universe, which turns out to be precisely why we also study literature: to learn about language and to understand our place in the universe. Which by the way, Hank, gets to the thing that make me angriest in the entire world, which is when people say that there is only one right answer in math, but that every answer is equally correct in literature.
First off, there is often more than one correct answer in math, and secondly NOT EVERY ANSWER IS EQUALLY CORRECT IN LITERATURE!
For instance, Hank, if you think that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a pro-slavery novel, you’re wrong! You’re as wrong as you are if you think that the square root of four is strawberries!
However, you must admit that there is some subjectivity involved in literature. Maybe no more than in programmers.stackexchange. But that has the benefit of spillover from StackOverflow, where the right answer proves itself by executing correctly.
What if it compiles but gives erroneous results? What if it compiles and gives correct results, except for a certain day of the year? (see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4128208). What if it compiles and runs and always gives the correct results no matter what, but isn't as efficiently written as it could be?
Having listened to many hours of planning and philosophizing on the SO podcast as the site developed, I think the OP misunderstands their approach.
1) They are "anti-community" only in the sense that they don't want content unrelated to the site's topic. They do have moderation, votes for moderators, etc. Everything about the site is geared around getting the best answers and making those searchable, not socializing.
2) This is a tradeoff: too narrow and you won't get enough momentum to keep going; too broad and it's uninteresting. Specificity keeps real experts interested; if you know and love Unix, you'll be much more likely to hang out and answer questions on a Unix site than on a General Computer Stuff site. The whole model depends on keeping experts involved, and if a site is TOO specific to generate enough interest, they kill it. One downside is the inevitable overlap between topics. But I think it's an OK tradeoff.
3) I don't see anything like what he describes. I've been using SO since it was in beta, and I'm still getting good answers to my questions quickly. If there is a rise in militant purists, it's in response to the inevitable influx of newbies and crappy questions, which will happen to any site that gets popular. SO has had this in mind from day 1 and they actively promote community moderation, which is the only scalable approach.
I don't mean to sound like an SO apologist, but this post sounds a little too "those guys don't know what they're doing". That's the most common refrain on the internet.
The proper response, snarky as it sounds, is "you try doing it better." And it's serious. If you can make a site and cultivate a community better than StackOverflow, I'll be there.
It's great to try to influence it, but as time goes on, the chances decrease that a newcomer has a point that hasn't been considered. That's just life. You don't see HN changing its format every week; newcomers adjust.
And if someone does have a good point, and it's not being considered, as we say, "fork it." The public Q&A data is available, or you could start from scratch.
I feel a bit like StackOverflow has extrapolated from a huge pent-up demand for decent answers to programming questions, that the world is desperate for Q&A sites on every subject. That does not seem to have been the case.
As for the other Q&As...especially the non-engineering ones, this culture is counter productive. In a field like history, the experts are not debating dates and places which are defensible positions, but methodology and theory. Those are discussions and require a little more breathing room than a q&a forum could provide.
That really doesn't have as much meaning as you think it does. The best answer out of three bad answers is still a bad answer. If they have driven away the people who give good answers, no amount of filtering the leftover bad answers will get you a good answer.
I don't see very many experts on stackoverflow. It may be a useful resource for beginners, but as someone more intermediate, I've had no questions answered satisfactorily in the time I've tried using it. And all those questions I ended up getting answered by asking in the appropriate IRC channel. My concern is that more and more open source projects are saying "if you have questions, ask on stackoverflow", but not actually watching for those questions and answering them. When a project has no mailing list, no IRC channel, and says "use stackoverflow" I'm pretty much out of luck for getting help.
* imagine googling for a programming questions and be stuck in 2008 - I don't want to go back
* imagine researching a wittgenstein paper - do you need philosophy.stackexchange.com - probably not; the numbers show, that SO's still the metrics vanguard - I think the demand for the niche sites is certainly there, but large communities have formed around traditional forum sites - and people are happy with that - so there is no pressing need to switch to the new format
* concerning questions - it has been a phenomenon since the beginning, that the simplest answers (C-C C-V the docs) got the most upvotes - interesting hard questions don't earn you much reputation, if that's what you're after - I still get a lot of upvotes for year-old answers, which everybody could have written, while the answers I invested hours in remain relatively untouched; but the main value for me comes from learning by answering questions: try to bring your point across in a few words, collect useful references and show working code - it's like a daily workout equivalent in the tech field
* open questions: I'm trying to make it a habit to answer one hard, unanswered, maybe older question each week - because it's true, the "reputation clock cycle" leaves a lot behind...
* moderation: most moderators have been long around - and I can somehow guess, in which tags a person is active, because I likely saw their comments, answers, flags already a couple of times - can't really blame them for closing a lot of questions - it's hard; if you can, sift through http://stackoverflow.com/tools/flagged and you might know what I mean
* tldr: SO rocks if you're a programmer, for other SE sites YMMV; unsatisfied with closed questions? reopen them or discuss it on meta - it's not possible that moderators don't make mistakes and it's not true, that you can't at least try to discuss specific issues; unsatisfied with unanswered hard questions: find one and write up something great
>"...The answers I invested hours in remain relatively untouched; but the main value for me comes from learning by answering questions..."
More than anything else, that's what keeps me coming back to stackoverflow. Most of the questions I've spent the most time on get little attention, but I learned quite a lot from answering them.
I found at least one of the newer sites, the Ubuntu S/E, to be quite useful for troubleshooting LTS version 12 just a few days after 12 came out.
I find the idea that Stack Exchange is anti-community laughable. The chat system is excellent and has relieved a lot of the tension between contributing to the site and just having fun meeting people who share your interests. I know a lot more about my fellow language enthusiasts, C++ programmers, and Haskellers than before. And more people read my blog and watch my YouTube videos now. I call that a win.
So: the last time I asked a good question on SO? Last month. The last time I gave a good answer? This week. The system still works from my point of view. And I’m one of the guys who actively edits questions so they don’t get closed for stupid reasons—moderation isn’t restricted to just moderators.
I find that a well structured question gets some good answers, I find a lot of people leaving their question open to interpretation and people cannot be bothered to ask the same old questions because the poster has neglected to be specific in their question.
I find a lot of people use it being lazy as well, most questions are simply part of the language / subject they are asking about but they cannot be bothered to read up on it. They would rather ask insanely simple questions to get other people to provide an answer for it.
The problem that they have is that SO grew very quickly and developed a Usenet-style culture. That's good in that there is alot of good information out there, but bad in the sense that you get all of the assholish behavior that came with Usenet.
The other problem that they have is the network of other sites, some of which are very good. The problem there is that they're scaling a model meant for 1,000,000 SO users down to 5,000 users, and it just isn't the same. On a smaller SE site, you cannot wrangle the 5 votes to close some nonsense question written in pidgin english. On SO, a question will be closed in seconds by the vigilantes who roam the site.
It's also easier for me to look at someone's gist/paste on IRC and give a quick answer.
It would be great if someone came up with a way to bring IRC answers into a SO-like site for clean-up.
But StackExchange has been a big disapointment for me. No big traction on the StackExchange sites, and moderators constantly closing questions without providing better alternatives. It's really a turn-off. (StackOverflow is still great though).
I will generally only ever go to a website to ask a factual question if I cannot easily find the answer myself either from documentation or experimentation. If I ask a question on Q&A it's because the answer is not forthcoming , this may be because my entire approach to the problem is wrong or maybe I'm doing something that only a handful of people would ever want to do. In that case I am relying on the right people actually seeing my post which would have low odds, so I am better served using dedicated forums/newsgroups for the library in question.
So this really leaves opinion based questions as the best things to ask, which don't seem to be encouraged on SO and the format of correct/wrong doesn't work there so well anyway.
Another issue is that I'm usually asking questions related to work things that I am doing, and while I can easily justify using time that I am paid by someone else to ask questions it is less easy to justify spending work time answering other people's questions in order to gain rep.
Also giving a good answer to many questions involves showing sample code , or digging back into something I did a while ago so it's not really something I can do in 2 minutes.
So this means I either have to answer questions somewhat covertly or wait until I get home by which time I may well have other things to do.
The hard part in my experience when going to try and answer some questions is it seems like there are more and more questions by inexperienced coders expecting people to write basic code for them, or not formulating the question in a way that will be useful to others in the future - instead they're pasting in their code and asking, "why isn't this working". Instead of, "I would expect this framework to behave as follows but it's not" it's "Here's 50 lines of code, why isn't it working?" The only way to answer such questions is to get their code up and running somewhere, perhaps on a jsfiddle, figure out what's wrong (often something as trivial as a syntax error), and then tell them. Doesn't feel very gratifying to do one off debugging on behalf of the person asking especially if the answer is unlikely to be useful to others in the future.
What I really care for is getting answers to tough questions. The problem with SO is it doesn't aim to be a QA site on the longer run. It aims to be a database of programming answers site that slowly evolves to solving most commonly faced programming problems. I don't know if their aim is to be advertising based revenue site on the longer run.
I ask a question because I want to get help. It has so happened when I absolutely can't get anything out of the problem at hand. I go on SO and ask a question, often I've been down voted down to oblivion, then I delete the question. Because all I see in response is sarcasm, cynicism and attempts by commenters to prove how big a fool I am.
To me stack overflow looks like site that wishes to attract people who already know answers to their questions, but want it put in a community wiki kind of way.
But I do agree that a simple Google search on SO sites, gives you solutions to most commonly known programming problems. And not just that most commonly known problems on areas that stack exchange sites deal with. These address most problems people face daily. Tough problems is a different cup of tea. But most common problems often get answered and their database seems to be growing with regards to those problems. And this might also be a great business model for SO.
SO was the cool new shiny tool, few years back. We all like to play with Shiny tools. Until something new, and more shiny come along.
These days most of colleagues ping me with interesting answers on quora. I would be happy with Quora opening their questions for reading without opening an account.
Meanwhile, some people start switching to Node or something else, and a new wave of Q&A starts on that. Rinse and repeat.
Everything else on top of that was gamification to convince people to achieve that. Whether that sort of community becomes degenerate at a certain point is certainly interesting to study, but my intuitive reaction whenever I see a StackOverflow result at the top of some google results is to be joyful, so I feel they've mostly achieved their aims.
Large, highly active development technology doesn't change every day. PHP has been around for 15 plus years, Python for 20 years. And those are two of most popular.
How many questions can ultimately be asked about PHP or Python, before you wipe out the radical majority of possible and important questions? Obviously languages like that evolve, but not very quickly once they hit a certain point in their life cycle.
As you saturate the big segments, you're going to naturally bleed off user excitement and interest. Stack will continue on, getting tons of traffic because their answers will remain extraordinarily valuable, but the ratio for the amount of new content in relation to existing content will continue to accelerate toward Stack being mostly an answers archive. That guarantees the stagnation of their community (perhaps leaving small pockets of excitement around new, lesser adopted tools).
Haven't communities like Wikipedia followed curves like this? Once you max out all the English topics (for example), then it's an update approach with a smaller number of new topics coming in. Net result ultimately being a lot less overall new content being added in relation to the existing base (demanding a peak in overall community activity). Wikipedia isn't nearly as exciting as it once was, several years ago, when the rate of build-out and topic addition was staggering. The wild west eventually becomes a boring suburb.
Not from my perspective. I'm a Rails developer, and between our continuously evolving platform, the proliferation of gems, and my changing projects, I've always got new questions.
Meanwhile, new technologies keep appearing to become the New Hotness.
Once you build those out to a high degree, reasonably the amount of new content possible in relation to existing content, will plunge. Then if you add a new language that becomes popular and mass adopted, the best you can hope for is perhaps an addition of 5% to 10% to your content base. It all becomes modestly incremental, and the excitement overall is guaranteed to fall in that environment.
Ruby can be hopping as a subset, but the likelihood the whole thing will be is vastly reduced once the overall build-out slows. What's left to be excited about in the PHP section, once you've answered 97% of what is important about the language? How many ways can someone ask about error reporting?
If all the PHP questions are answered, every PHP programmer is now able to Google and find what they want to SO. That means they 1) learn that SO is the place for answers and 2) see ads.
2 years from now, when they're working in another language with less established Q&A, they'll know where to go.
"Excitement overall" really doesn't mean anything here. I don't care how much or little activity there currently is in the Objective C section because I don't use Objective C. I'm able to find the info I want and get questions answered if they're not already there. That's all that matters.
What's going to stop that from happening?
I believe overall stagnation in the community is guaranteed however, which is what the topic rather focuses on.
If it means "overall, people lose interest and stop visiting to ask and answer questions," I don't see that. I'm not visiting to fill in all the gaps in SO's content, and feeling disappointed when there aren't many gaps to fill. I'm running into questions, Googling, and hoping to find my question already answered.
If I find it and it's not answered, I'll do research and try to answer it myself. If it doesn't exist, I'll ask. If I find the answer before anyone else does, I may answer it myself.
I'm not going to stop doing that, and I don't see why anyone else will, either. What the overall trends are in the site really has no bearing on my individual participation, so it never feels "stagnant" to me.
Maybe you're imagining users who show up and surf for questions to answer, and those people are getting bored? That's just not the way I use the site, though.
There are a lot of questions tagged openGL asking how to do file wildcards (to load images) or visual-studio about how to pass arrays to functions