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Launching developer Q&A on Stack Overflow (mozilla.org)
99 points by rnyman 1161 days ago | hide | past | web | 53 comments | favorite

In principle, it is good to go where the community is. Let's just hope they don't get slowed down too much by the questions police.

Or maybe the "questions police" is the reason the community is there and not in yet another weed-infested forum.

Disclosure: Card-carrying member of the "questions police".

That's very close to a tautology. People who are on S.O. ("the community") are there because they like how it is run, overall, and the questions rules and police are a big part of the experience. People who are disgruntled tend to leave.

Personally, I tend not to post because of the stress of having a question policed. You guys should have a full fledged StackExchange site (not Meta) where people can ask which other SE site to post their question on. I'm not kidding. Because of the complexity/sophistication of the software, the rules on SE/SO are far more baroque than the rules on Usenet ever could have been.

Agree. My (one and only) experience with using Stack Overflow for Facebook questions was not especially positive, and after having my motives impugned and my question derided as purposeless I just deleted it. (No point arguing with the police.) Sadly this was not the first time I'd had this experience on SO, even if it was my first time using it as any kind of official-looking support channel, and I would therefore look askance at any organisation using SO proper for their support.

On the other hand, I've noticed a couple of companies using their own Stack Overflow install for their support forums, and I'm sure that could work pretty well. It's not a question of the software, just whether or not the community is right, really. SO's has ended up with too many volunteer bureaucrats, I think, and to make things worse there's even a meta site where they can gather and make up more rules for people to follow. You say organised, I say ossified... well, let's call the whole thing off. I stopped posting on SO after my last experience.

I don't expect anybody to care about one person leaving (and nor should they!) but if enough individual people leave, then I guess eventually nobody will be left.

> after having my motives impugned and my question derided as purposeless I just deleted it.

I had the same experience awhile back, it was like a pedantry competition. Ok, so perhaps I didn't word the question perfectly, but I did provide a lot of information and examples (spent like 15m just making the post itself). They need to realize that the people who're going to most frequently ask questions are most likely not actually experts in that subject, or else they wouldn't be posting.

> and to make things worse there's even a meta site where they can gather and make up more rules for people to follow

If you think that's bad, did you know that they now have chat? When I tried to delete my aforementioned question, it wouldn't let me, so I went into chat to see if I could find a mod to ask for help. Well guess what... there I found a group of mods/powerusers actively deriding me behind my back. Once I let my presence be known, they quickly shut up, like a bunch of school girls caught gossiping in class. I must say, that left a horrible taste in my mouth, to think that they get their kicks making fun of users behind their backs.

> I would therefore look askance at any organisation using SO proper for their support.

I've come to view SO as more of a crowd-sourced FAQ site rather then a direct support site.

In that capacity it does a great job. But it either leaves a large hole in support when all non-generalizable questions are shoved into the bin, or it forces the organisation to split the community by having an alternate forum/chat/list where such questions are welcome.

I agree. I asked a poorly worded question "How do users know where to ask their questions?" http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/190061/how-do-users-... and got a couple of reasonable responses.

I needed to ask a much better question to get the kind of responses that I wanted though.

Funny you should suggest that...

Turns out, there's a site for that: http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/site-recommen...

The SO network is wide. Some of the questions police are reasonable. Some of them are wingnuts.

It's kind of off putting - I don't want to ask questions in some of the other communities because I just can't be arsed to deal with moderator roulette.

I'm not sure that's the effect that SO wants to be having.

I'm glad Im not the only one that feels this way. The SE sites have become very fragmented and are extremely/over moderated. The combination of those two things makes it unwelcoming to participate these days.

What's frustrating is that questions are usually "closed" as "not relevant". How am I supposed to know that I shouldn't be posting to SuperUser or Serverfault if it happens to be a home networking issue?

I'd prefer my question being pushed into a "pending/WIP" state where they might be segregated from search visibility instead of having it become closed and thus unappealing to responders.

  > How am I supposed to know that I shouldn't be posting to SuperUser or Serverfault if it happens to be a home networking issue?
The help pages[1][2] explain what is acceptable to ask on the sites

  [1] http://superuser.com/help/on-topic
  [2] http://serverfault.com/help/on-topic

But that's the point - there are so many sites with tiny bits of overlap that a user now has to navigate conflicting help pages.

A Linux question -


Ask Ubuntu?

Unix and Linux?

(Server Fault)? (Stack Overflow?)

While we expect programmers to RTFM the rest of the SE network is aimed at not so technical people.

I do agree with you about the overlap. I've had the same issues in the past, but to be honest I think it's just a matter of getting to know the different sites and achieving an intuitive feel for where questions should go. It may not be perfect, and you may get blow-back if you post in the wrong site, but then learn from that and move on. As programmers, we should be used to failing when we try something, but we don't give up and abandon what we're doing: we try again until we succeed. And if that comes off a bit stoic (for programmers, and non-programmers alike) then I think that the person may need to readjust their ideas of what SO/SE is. It's a collection of random strangers who have been interacting for a period of time and built up certain social conventions which they start to expect people to conform to. Just as in real life you don't go up to a group of people and expect them to be perfectly willing to accept you no matter how you behave (good or bad). Yes, the separation is bad. Yes in the SO/SE case, it could maybe be improved, but generally there is always going to be overlap. With the advent of area51 it seems people really want to specialize the SE sites, which makes the problem worse: but that is what the community seems to want. I think that in order to fully solve the problem, there should only be one SE site, and everything could be separated appropriately by tags

> built up certain social conventions

What?! There are no "built up social conventions" on SO, those were destroyed early on. There is only a toxic culture formed by the fiat of the great hypocrite Jeff Atwood, whose mouth championed "the community" while his jackboots curbstomped anything the community did that wasn't simple or mediocre enough for him to appreciate.

I appreciate that SO has a focus specifically on answerable programming questions, and that people are willing to protect it.

On the other hand, I find the the "questions police" are sometimes a little too hasty to shut down actually useful questions, that may stray a bit into the grey zone or may not be phrased as well as possible. I see a lot of new users posting questions that aren't quite clear enough, and then rather than commenting in a way that will help them clarify the question, people just downvote, vote to close, and move on.

There are some people who are just hopeless; no matter how much guidance on asking good questions you provide, they won't get it. But you shouldn't assume that when someone asks a question, and just vote to close. It can really hurt to have a question downvoted or closed, and put someone off the site. I think those tools should be used only for blatantly abusive or off topic questions, or users who really don't get it and keep asking the same things over and over again.

Keep in mind, Stack Overflow gets somewhere north of 8K questions per day. Every day. There's a limit to how much hand-holding anyone's willing to do in the face of that - particularly given how often it simply does not accomplish anything.

That said, if you're the conscientious sort and do listen to the advice given for improving your question... It'll get reviewed and possibly re-opened. If nothing else, you'll at least have learned something you can put to use the next time you ask a question.

Something else worth considering... Most of the moderation is done by (or at very least instigated by) the same folks answering the questions. So if you're active in a bit more of a niche tag (for instance, [firefox]) and you've done your homework to where the folks answering can actually help you... You're a lot more likely to get help.

@Shog9 One of the things I take issue with is when I am busy trying to help someone ask a better question, several other people are busy downvoting and voting to close which scares them off. There are a lot of people who have just the minimal reputation needed to vote to close, who seem a lot more interested in closing anything that they don't understand right away than trying to figure out what the person is really asking about and actually helping them.

Here's an example: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/19964962/html5-filesystem... It wasn't the best phrased question, but it was reasonably obvious what he was asking. Instead of trying to help him phrase his question better, or actually answer him, several people told him to "just Google it" or linked to tutorials that didn't answer his question while downvoting him and voting to close. Eventually, after I actually answered the question (which did take a little research, the only documentation I found was the spec which took a little parsing through to figure out how it was supposed to work), he got fed up with the number of downvotes and deleted the question.

This isn't an isolated example, it happens a lot. I've had lots of cases where there was a question that wasn't perfectly clear but if you read between the lines a bit you could figure out what they were asking, where lots of people just voted to close, wasting the time I took to actually try to answer the question correctly. It's harmful to the community.

And as you can see in this thread, there are a lot of people who are scared off by this behavior; who don't use SO because of the treatment they got. I definitely understand people's frustration with people who ask poor questions, but part of the point of SO is that you can, through commenting and editing, improve questions, and far too many people are too happy to just make a snide comment and downvote rather than actually trying to help.

(heh, funny that I defaulted to using SO-style "@Shog9" when discussing the topic on HN; it's interesting how I fall into that habit when replying to someone I recognize from SO, despite being on HN at the time)

Ugh, I hate those comments. Reminds me too much of forum cruft. Or that xda-developers video. If you see that crap cropping up, please flag it; they're easy enough to get rid of.

As you say, there's a bit of a "man with a hammer" problem with folks who've gained access to the tooling without really learning how (or when) to use it. I'm working on some better guidance there, but it can be hard to redirect that impulse. If you have any good suggestions, don't hesitate to ping me in The Tavern (http://chat.meta.stackoverflow.com/rooms/89/tavern-on-the-me...). "@Shog9" should actually do something there ;-)

I've essentially left off contributing to SO because of the moderators/questions police.

I vastly prefer basically any other format (yes, even phpBB) to SO because of the mod squads.

What types of questions are you interested in asking?

If you want to ask answerable technical questions (I'm trying to do X, here's the code sample, it's crashing here or producing this output), Stack Overflow is great.

If you want to ask a vague "which framework should I use for this project" or "tabs vs. spaces" question, Stack Overflow is not the place to go, and that's by choice.

I do sometimes have a problem with people who are over-eager to downvote or close questions which aren't phrased perfectly from the beginning, but overall, if you actually have an objective, answerable technical question to ask, it can be a good place to go.

Let's put it this way. Just about any programming question I google leads me to SO. Just about every one of those links are "closed as not helpful by the moderators" (paraphrased). Google thinks it is a useful question. I think it is a useful question. The questioner thought it was useful, as did the people that answered the question before it was closed. If it quacks like a duck....

Examples? I find myself on SO quite often through searches and can only remember one or maybe two questions that were closed.

Funny, I see a lot of closed questions on SO, but most of them are from HN links. When I google for a solution for a programming problem, I usually find a high-scoring (not closed) SO question with useful answers.

I want to ask subtle qualitative questions with nuance in the asking and answering. These questions do not always have singular answers, nor do they lend themselves to simple answers. Worse, they frequently have elements of subjectivity, since the nuance needed to answer this class of questions often relies on experiential information and insight.

It's become acknowledged with the professional software developers I've met (in real life) that SO has become fine for elementary "how do I X" (where X is a popular subject and has contributors on SO), but for anything more profound, SO is usually useless (often wrong, even).

Yeah, SO is explicitly designed not to be appropriate for qualitative questions with nuance. The problem is that those kinds of questions can frequently lead to endless debate, there's no clear "right" answer, and so on, and anything where there's voting and marking "accepted" answers and which is designed to be a good resource for someone Googling something to be able to find an answer isn't going to be a good fit for qualitative, subjective, nuanced questions.

I am a professional software developer in real life, and I use SO to ask questions occasionally, and answer questions often. There are definitely plenty of cases where it is much more useful than just elementary "how do I X"; there are lots of cases of real, difficult questions being asked and answered, or lots more of people who are experienced developers but new on a particular language or framework or library asking questions about that. It's also quite good at it's mission, of providing fairly good answers for when you Google a question, rather than a forum post where you have to go to the third page to find a comment that almost, but not quite, actually answers the question, and then two pages further to find the clarification that makes it all actually work.

So, you have to use it for the right kinds of questions, but I find that it really does work fairly well for those. The two main problems are that there is a somewhat low signal to noise ratio, as on any popular forum (lots of beginners asking those basic questions that you mention, lots of people asking questions poorly or unclearly, lots of people jumping on people for not quite asking their question perfectly at first), and that people are a little hasty to close imperfect questions without giving them time to be fleshed out into good questions.

The moderation, voting, and closing of questions is supposed to help with that signal to noise ratio, but I'm a bit skeptical, as it seems to be suppressing a little too much signal, and letting through a little too much noise.

Here's an example of StackOverflow working for a fairly deep question, about the maximal possible asymptotic slowdown due to purely functional programming: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1990464/efficiency-of-pur...

Now, we saw the problems that I described at first (the question was a little bit vague, a lot of people jumped in with hasty and incorrect answers, and it was closed for being too vague), but since the system allows editing, voting, and re-opening of questions, those problems were fixed.

For a lot of questions, if you Google for a question and find it on StackOverflow, there's a very good chance it will be answered correctly. If you find a question that has no answer or was answered incorrectly, you are able to correct it or answer it yourself.

I guess what I'm saying is that StackOverflow isn't perfect, but you really shouldn't write it off based on a single bad experience. Just keep in mind what it is for; questions that are answerable, not just subjective or bikeshed questions, and you need to do at least some effort to ask a good question that has enough detail to be possible to answer.

Just so you know: I have a decently high rep on SO - 21K - and have a highish rep on Programmers.SE. And I spent a fair amount of time on Meta.SO back when unicorns were a good deal more popular. I am not writing this off of a single bad experience: I'm writing this based off about 2 years experience. It's a system - designed at that - that rewards simple questions with simple answers, and is particularly susceptible to wrong answers that are popularly believed. The exception is the nuance and the depth (Clearly, Jon Skeet is part of the exception. :-) ).

I don't particularly care that nuanced qualitative questions can lead to debate. Most things that are interesting and matter can be debated; that's why they are interesting- because there are different perspectives and education and experience can provide the nuance to help with choice. That's why I consider /r/programming a better place to find fruitful discussion than StackOverflow...

Anyway. Hope that helps you in your thought processes.

> That's why I consider /r/programming a better place to find fruitful discussion than StackOverflow

There is also http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=65767

> Here's an example of StackOverflow working for a fairly deep question, about the maximal possible asymptotic slowdown due to purely functional programming

But there is (now) a better SE site for this: http://cs.stackexchange.com/

FWIW, no, I think the reason "the community" is there was mostly because the founders provided enough star power to get the thing started. I'm not sure it's as far as in spite of the "questions police", but I've seen too many arbitrary question closings to believe it's because of them.

As it currently stands, this comment is not a good fit for our discussion format...

Or maybe they'll have the heft to get the questions police to lighten up once in a while?

Besides the dino head on the tag buttons what exactly does this mean? All the article says is "We are now happy to announce our presence on Stack Overflow!"

It means that we are sponsoring those tags on Stack Overflow, have a landing page there and that people at Mozilla actively monitor and take part in discussions marked with that tag.

Do you know why Mozilla's Stack Overflow tags are using the dino head logo instead of the fox?

Yes, I do. :-) That logo is the new logo for MDN, our network for developers at Mozilla. Since Stack Overflow is a resource for developers we see a direct connection to that. Also, we have different foxes for different products, so that would probably be confusing - rather have one consistent look.

I could barely recognize what that tag icon means. A small odd white shape on another odd blue shape. You can spot the Google Chrome and Android icons from a mile. Come on.

My understanding is that it means Mozilla employees are actively monitoring those tags as part of their job.

It's a funny thing that I yesterday read in the Mozilla branding guidelines[1] that they are retiring the dino head and now announces that he's back.

Different shape and color guess I makes it, but they should mention it in the guidelines.

It's a good thing I think that they are spending time helping people. It is developers within Mozilla who are answering the questions so hopefully they will take notice of what is confusing and troublesome for people and use it to fix the concentrated areas.


"A note on the dino"

"The classic Mozilla dino head logo served as a symbol of the organization since our earliest days, but has now been retired from active duty. While the brand has evolved, the dino had not been updated in quite some time and is no longer the best representation of who we are today. He spends his days traveling, reading and still looking out for the interests of users everywhere (some habits die hard). We wish him well in his future endeavors. Please use the Mozilla wordmark on all properties and materials instead." - https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/styleguide/identity/mozilla/br...

That logo is part of the new MDN redesign. In general, the dino is very popular among developers so I believe we will most likely continue to use it in developer circles, whereas it might go away in others.

And exactly, we both want to help out and also identify what developers have issues with.

I've always liked this story of Mozilla (a name for the dino):


I'm not sure why other companies even use forums instead of StackExchange.

SE is poorly suited to actual discussions and any back-and-forth sort of troubleshooting.

I would not do business with any company that puts their customers at the mercy of SE's toxic culture.

SO also doesn't fully endorse[1] using it as a support forum per se.

  [1] http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/3966/is-it-okay-to-use-stack-overflow-as-the-support-forum-for-a-product-or-project

It's vaguely scary to think people will be putting all their traditional forum stuff in SE or Reddit.

Yahoo, Myspace, and Digg all used to be pretty big.

why not reddit? Topical threaded conversation like miles better then the classic forums, they can't die fast enough.

Reddit is great. People used to say that about Yahoo search, and about Digg.

From what I can tell, this means they will be monitoring the tags to spot potential bugs and strange behavior.

Well done! I rarely have to report some problems with Firefox and trying to remember my bugzilla password is a major PITA. Most of the time I had to reset it. OTOH, I'm using SO almost daily. I just hope they will be able to really monitor it and not get overwhelmed (I have no idea how many questions are opened for those tags daily, hopefully not too many).

Bug reports should still end up in Bugzilla. Sorry; that's what it was built for.

The goal here is to encourage development questions - folks writing code targeted at HTML5 or Firefox OS.

Not that bug reports never draw on problems identified in development questions of course... But don't throw away your Bugzilla account just yet.

I second that. Stack Overflow is to discuss problems when developing, whereas Bugzilla (https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/enter_bug.cgi) is for reporting actual bugs and the support site is more about product support: http://support.mozilla.org/

> From what I can tell, this means they will be monitoring the tags to spot potential bugs and strange behavior.

They'd better damn well! [html5-apps] is a horrible, horrible thing that meets many of the definitions of a "meta" tag.

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