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Where did Pierre 303 go? He was an all-star (stackexchange.com)
41 points by bussetta 1851 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments

Could someone summarize how programmers.stackexchange.com has changed, for those of us who were not heavy users?

When programmers came about, SO (StackOverflow) was already a well-established site for technical questions. It has a hard line on questions that are difficult to answer directly, either with simple logic or code, or references.

Programmers was created (or so it seemed) with a similar goal, but for not directly technical questions. Typically things that are too high-level and not detailed enough for SO end up there, e.g. questions about architecture, design patterns or paradigms (and many others).

What seems to have changed is that the moderation policy has become ever more to the letter, closing any question which doesn't seem to fit the site. The problem with this is that most of the policy (the "FAQ") is in line with that of SO, where it works great. I honestly don't think that high-level, architectural questions can be answered in a 100% correct way; they are often too fuzzy, involving trade-offs that are different for different organisations and people. So basically, if any question comes along which has no single "correct" answer, it is likely to be closed. This is a bit of a problem, because I for one would love to read about the (highly educated and refined) opinions of some great developers. Apparently that isn't allowed, however, only "facts".

This is exactly what happened to Literature.SE and a couple of other sites I dipped into (although Lit.SE was my most active, and I was in the top 10 users there before it closed).

The moderation was harsh and it led to questions being mundane, tedious or boring - and a race to get the "right answer" in (with little effort on quality). Opinion was stamped on and it was clear that SE was looking for mindless answer-drones and not a community with opinions and views.

Unsurprisingly, Lit.SE died a death after less than a year.

It wasn't just the moderation policy, the actual purpose of the site was changed from anything "Not Programming Related" to "conceptual questions about software development". That led to moderators shutting down the active community that had formed around career development, office politics, equipment, etc.

Disclaimer: I'm a Programmers moderator.

The original version of Programmers was called "Not Programming Related", and it was created as a site for anything and everything that didn't fit Stack Overflow (What's your favourite programming cartoon, etc).

What you are describing is actually the current scope, that seems to be working just fine. You're right that questions that fit within the site's scope rarely have a definitive answer, but a definitive answer is not what we are looking for, just a finite and somewhat limited set of good/great answers.

Here's a few recent example questions that probably explain what the site's about better than I could ever:












None of these questions would make it on Stack Overflow, and that's the gap Programmers is filling.

Yeah, those are some great examples. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the most viewed / highest reated question ("what should every programmer know about web development") closed at one time due to being a "polling" type of question? Here's the link:


Personally, I've found that some of the most interesting and instructive answers have been quite opinionated and not really fact based. Sometimes these lead to (heated) discussions of their merits, which lead to some insights into the various opinions. I would almost say that in software architecture, most areas are gray (and those that are black and white are trivial or uninteresting). It's just unfortunate that these types of questions and answers run the risk of being closed.

What I'm really saying is: I get the need for moderation, and yes, perhaps some questions are not a good fit for the site. But I'd still love to have some place where developers express their opinions and are challenged to justify them.

It was closed and re-opened a few times (full revision history: http://programmers.stackexchange.com/posts/46716/revisions). Every time that question got shared somewhere, it started getting crap answers instantly, everyone ignored the fantastic community curated top voted answer and went ahead and added yet another one liner saying "learn css".

No one wants that question closed, but at the same time only a handful of people actively prune it every now and then. Right now it's open, but if it starts generating crap answers yet again, we might close it. And then silently re-open it when no one's looking, hoping that the next troll that visits the site won't notice.

However, keep in mind closed doesn't mean dead, we have lots of great (but closed) questions (http://programmers.stackexchange.com/search?tab=votes&q=...), if at some point a question becomes incredibly troublesome, closing it is the easy - and reversible - fix. Killing crap answers, rewording the question to be a bit more specific, etc, is a very slow process, but it happens.

Thanks, it makes more sense in that context.

Actually their motto is to make it a question and answer site and not a discussion site.

The issue with that is, the answers that follow depend on the question. If the question cannot be answered as a clear cut fact then an discussion is inevitable. Also some questions by their very nature attract discussions and they turn out to be the most interesting ones.

As somebody else also mentioned, some topics just can't have a clear factual answer like religion, literature etc.

The problem with factual answers is, there is only that much you can do with general problems that everyone face. Once those questions(problems which every one face generally) are answered, your site turns to a knowledge repository. And then the site traffic greatly depends on specific problems faced by people and most generally nobody else gets interested in those.

That rationale makes sense for Stack Overflow. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for Programmers Stack Exchange, which is supposed to be for the "big questions".

From one of the participants who is/has been in touch with prominent figures on P.SE: http://meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/a/4018

>If someone makes a Q&A site for Programmers to ask questions and get answers from other Programmers about any issue related to their career choice or self-identity as a programmer, let me know. I'd love to participate in such a site again, and will help you promote it.

>As for this site, I'm done with it unless something changes. I feel its changed too far from the original programming resource it once was, and the current moderation style is not for me.

>I dislike that so much valuable information gets deleted for the sake of "maintaining a clean site", dislike the way many users are treated (particularly new ones), and dislike the way the overall culture of this site has been changing from a community of programmers out to teach and learn from each other, to an insular group of programming elitists (of course this isn't all of you, or probably even most of you. Its just a large percentage of the more active/vocal users who take part in running the site).

>Anyways, I'm not interested in helping to support this site anymore, although I will be happy to take part in any initiatives to changes things.

edit:sorry for the weird live-updating, I got lost in proxy errors.

edit2:this quote is not from Pierre 303. It is from a profile page that Pierre 303 agrees on and he said the [argument exposed] is the reason he left.

NPR, the original version of Programmers, was an experiment, and, well, it failed. Pierre and a few other equally exemplary contributors from the good old days decided to move on, and that's that.

Unfortunate, but we can't do anything about it now, especially since the site's experiencing steady growth and an overall increase in quality since the new scope was solidified. The majority of the community seems to be quite happy with the current direction of the site, no one has called me an evil nazi mod on our Meta site in months ;P

For anyone interested in more details on the change in scope, and the history of the site in general: http://meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/3412/wha... (ignore my extremely unhelpful answer there, please ;)

So did someone start a competing site he contributes to now?

From June 3, 2010 to September 29, 2010 Programmers was a Q&A site for anything and everything that didn't fit Stack Overflow.

From September 29, 2010 and onwards Programmers is a Q&A site for professional programmers who are interested in getting expert answers on conceptual questions about software development.

Why people still complain about the change in scope more than two years after it happened, is beyond me. In retrospect, it might have been a better idea to close the original site and create a new one from scratch, but that's all in the past now.

Originally there was just StackOverflow, a Q&A site for programmers to get answers to their programming questions.

But the users wanted a place to get answers from other programmers about non-code questions, so Programmers (then called Not-Programming-Related) was created.

The site was originally for questions that weren't asking about code, but that were still seeking answers from other Programmers, such as What's your favorite programming cartoon?, How to you deal with people who ask you to fix your computer?, Why are there so few female programmers?, How can I keep my hands healthy when I spend all day typing?, What are good snacks to eat while programming?, etc.

At some point during the beta period, SE decided this type of site didn't meet their standards, so decided to change the site's scope and direction to being for "conceptual questions about software development" only.

The problem was, they didn't make that clear to the users, and didn't start enforcing that change until about a year after the site was created. And to make the problem worse, the site name stayed Programmers.SE, which leads many users to think the site is still a StackExchange site about programmers.

So we had a huge community of users who thought the site was a place to get answers from other programmers about non-code questions, and we had a team of moderators who knew the site was actually about conceptual questions about software development.

When questions started getting closed and deleted, particularly highly-voted questions, many users didn't understand why and got upset over it. This lead to a lot of tension in the community, and as a result many of the old users left.

Here's a meta question that explains the full history: http://meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/q/3412/1130

But I think also related is this answer, which contains some graphs showing question trends and more importantly, close rates. Note that none of the graphs include deleted questions. http://meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/a/3140/1130

Hey, "Why are there so few female programmers?" (http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/5780/why-are-...) is still an acceptable question, it's closed, but only because it's a dupe of "Career Prospects: Women at Management positions in Software" (http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/93462/career-...)

Also, while the community in the good old days was certainly vibrant, it wasn't huge, and it's not huge today either. But at least now we're steadily growing: http://www.quantcast.com/programmers.stackexchange.com

Lastly, I love how you say that the graphs don't include deletions, and one of them (supposedly) show deletions and undeletions. You kinda screwed up the queries there, the graphs don't make sense ;)

That deletions you see on there are items that were deleted and undeleted. Anything that is deleted as of the data dump that those graphs were built on is not displayed. I didn't figure that out until after I posted the graph, and I never bothered to go back and remove the delete/reopen data.

The important point I'm trying to make is take a look at the asked and closed graph lines. When a community has to close around 40% of questions, I think something is wrong.

I feel like I just stumbled into a jr high lunchroom conversation.... What the hell is wrong with you people that this makes it onto the first page?

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