Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Why I no longer contribute to Stack Overflow (richter.name)
243 points by spatulon 1480 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 236 comments

StackOverflow is a machine designed to do one thing: make it so that, for any given programming question, you will get a search engine hit on their site and find a good answer quickly. And see some ads.

That's really it. Everything it does is geared toward that, and it does it quite well.

I have lots of SO points. A lot of them have come from answering common, basic questions. If you think points exist to prove merit, that's bad. But if you think points exist to show "this person makes the kind of content that brings programmers to our site and makes them happy", it's good. The latter is their intent.

Does having easy answers available on SO make us dumber? I doubt it. People have made the same argument about search engines, and you probably could have said the same about encyclopedias.

StackOverflow is a machine designed to do one thing: make it so that, for any given programming question, you will get a search engine hit on their site and find a good answer quickly.

Yes, and that is an incredibly valuable service.

I haven't participated in StackOverflow actively, neither asking nor answering questions, for various reasons, some perhaps related to some of the OP's complaints, but it has saved me many hours of searching through documentation and mailing lists just by being there.

I suspect the contribution to global programmer productivity is enormous. It's true that it may tend to reduce the amount of very detailed knowledge about very narrow topics that people need to memorize but I think that externalizing this type of knowledge is the way to go. As long as your mental models about the basic workings of the software you're using are essentially correct I don't think there's much harm in depending on external resources for specific details.

In fairness, it seems to have eliminated Experts Exchange from search results.

"find a good answer quickly" -- SO completely nailed this requirement. If I Google something and SO is in the results, I go to it like a moth to a flame. The very design of SO ensures quality answers. If anyone writes anything that is incorrect or not ideal, it will get downvoted/edited/discussed/deleted immediately, completely ensuring the subpar content is gone right away.

I have to agree with your statement. I've also used SO to ask esoteric questions about niches in technologies I work with every day. Most of the time those questions don't get answers quickly. However, after a period of time I can see they've helped others by the views and awards that come in sometimes a year or more after posting. I view SO more as a way to display example use cases of strange behavior or puzzling functionality that I discover as I'm working through issues. Especially for things that official documentation explains poorly or not at all.

Still, SO has managed to build up a mostly competent community that provides relevant answers to most questions;

if SO manages to loose this community then signal to noise ratio will further increase, the site will go down the drain and new competitors will appear.

Are people really that motivated by points and badges? I think these are similar to toy money/monopoly money. if a person does not like the process of investigating a problem then this will not be a sufficient motive for participation; if its not fun then nothing will help here. Career incentive? I doubt that, for a real job they will look at other things.

Still SO has a dilemma, like wikipedia it is a huge amount of text and it needs some meta moderation, and then some meta meta moderation too; so monopoly money is probably supposed to move a person up along this hierarchy. The problem is that a hierarchy of moderators will eventually piss off at least some competent contributors, if not all of them; this problem is common to most sites: slashdot, wikipedia, SO, HN - over time they all run into this problem.

Its like in real politics; nation states need bureaucrats, but these can also turn into a mortal danger to the state

No, you're wrong. If this was true, why is it that nearly any question you find on SO from Google is marked as "closed for not conforming to ideology or other arbitrary reason."

What are you searching for? I've literally never seen this on anything on Stack Overflow when coming from Google. I have seen it on some posts while I've been using the site directly, and it's almost always justified, from what I can tell.

Really? It's a pretty well-known, common complaint.

"Does having easy answers available on SO make us dumber?"

Yes, in that the worlds largest helper only supports simple boring common questions, as per the article. If you're trying to do stats in scala, and the only help you can get is "hello world" in java, that's not good for Scala, statistics, or much of anything else, making the world overall dumber.

By analogy, lets say reality TV shows completely push video documentaries off the air. This is not so far fetched. The net result is likely to be dumber.

>> If you're trying to do stats in scala, and the only help you can get is "hello world" in java

Are people posting Java "hello world" answers on your Scala questions? I doubt it. Are you manually slogging through dozens of Java questions looking for Scala ones? You should be searching.

I see no reason why you should ever have to look at Q&As irrelevant to you.

Worst case: you have questions nobody can answer. Which means one of two things:

1. Your question is unclear or too specific to your situation

2. You're working in a niche area.

If #2, you're no worse off than if SO didn't exist. So what's the problem?

By what mechanism do you imagine Stack Exchange-style sites starving out more detailed and comprehensive treatments of individual subjects? The proposition would seem to require the assumption that all programming can be reduced to cookbook recipes.

Theoretical mechanism would look something like noob who could someday write detailed comprehensive treatments of some Clojure topic tries to get started, sees 99% of his available resources for help are java oriented, eh, better stick with java in case I need help later on, and the possibility of noob growing up to be clojure author of a detailed treatment has disappeared.

"The proposition would seem to require the assumption that all programming can be reduced to cookbook recipes."

Its one of many effective ways to start learning a language, although not the only way. To distort or screw something up, you don't necessarily have to mess up 100% of the population, just a good chunk of them. You could try to argue that few to no experts ever took their first steps as cookbook script kiddies, but I don't think that would be successful.

This does not make sense whatsoever. You don't go to SO to get a feel for a language. You go to SO to get quick answers for a problem you are having for a language already chosen.

Some languages are better supported and have broader ecosystems than others, and for a given language this tends to be self-perpetuating as a result of its effect on the languages which people choose to learn and use. This you blame on Stack Exchange? I concede the model is less than perfect, but really.

And you seem to mistake knowing languages for understanding programming. The essence of the skill is the ability to formally specify an algorithm which solves a given problem; the rest, more or less, is libraries and syntax.

Wasn't the original brief of SO mostly "be a better expertsexchange.com"? Which was... a site designed to be at the top of a search engine result for a programming question, serve you ads, and aggressively try to get you to become a paid member to see results. Everyone hated expertsexchange.

Now people are starting to hate SO, for very different reasons. At last! They've become the new expertsexchange in every way.

I am seeing that url as "expert sex change." That said, the word therapist also can be read in multiple ways.

That's exactly why they changed their domain name to experts-exchange.com at some point [1]. I think many people still call it that out of contempt for their SEO and paywall antics.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experts-Exchange 4th paragraph.

Fascinating that OP became a worker in a critical part of Google's machine, and he didn't even realize it.

How do you know he didn't realize it? I start from the assumption that OP isn't stupid.

He doesn't have a problem with Stack Overflow, really. He has some loathing for his own practice of treating the site as a game and finding useless ways to rack up meaningless points. He never explained why he bothered to collect these points, but clearly one day he realized that this was pointless and decided to blame the site rather than himself.

I go there now and then to answer questions. My latest answer[0], about a way to get gnuplot to do a certain trick, took me a couple of hours to get right and got me 25 whole points for being the accepted answer. I worked on this because it seemed to be an interesting challenge, I was interested in figuring out how to do it, and nobody else was answering. I sharpened my gnuplot skills in figuring it out and helped someone. To do this for "points" is asinine (unless a big score gets you something else, like a consulting contract - in which case what's the complaint?).


Another +70 for now in 2 hours on HN, not bad, hmm I should link some answers of mine here ;)

Coming back to the SO topic, I got my initial ~600 pts within just a few days on "who's first", but it's not fun to do it long term. Then got ~400 pts for Java trivia [1], now I usually just write my 2 cents when googling for something and finding the best answer not satisfactory.

Sometimes I also self-answer myself for certain things I think could be useful for others, or me-in-the-future e.g. [2]

[1] "What does the “+=” operator do in Java?" - it's more than x = x + y; http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7456462/what-does-the-ope...

[2] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/5924937/lucene-custom-sco...

That is roughly how I work too. I have tags I care about and among those, I look for questions I believe I can answer based on my knowledge. Either I have used some aspect of what they're asking for in the past or by research I'll uncover something I should use in the future.

To use the site for the sole purpose of gaining points seems asinine to me. What do you get from that behavior? Only what the gamification gives you. I didn't understand that anyone can be a mod though so it doesn't surprise me that people would subvert the system to be the ones to "CLOSED NOT RELEVANT" other people. There seems to have been a pedantic movement and it can probably be traced back to people like this just boosting points to be the head bitch in charge. It explains a ton to me now...

The author's main problem stems from his desire to use Stack Overflow as a mechanism for gaining internet points - as is illustrated by his confession that

  "I saw a simple Java question, hit Google, read briefly, then
   synthesized an original answer."
Why bother? Instead, I use Stack Overflow predominantly for three reasons --

1. To ask interesting questions that I think will get a better answer there than anywhere else (eg [0,1,2]).

2. To help educate other programmers about languages that I like very much, and would like to see in wider use. I endeavour not to just give a "how to do X" answer, but instead explain what the different approaches are, and why some approaches are better than others (eg [3,4,5])

3. To stay in touch and build a reputation among the wider community of Haskell programmers - not by amassing internet points, but by asking interesting questions and giving interesting, thoughtful answers.

If you just game Stack Overflow for imaginary internet points, it's no wonder you don't find it very fulfilling.

[0] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/9190352/abusing-the-algeb...

[1] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/10753073/whats-the-theore...

[2] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/19177125/sets-functors-an...

[3] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/11684321/how-to-play-with...

[4] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/12968351/monad-transforme...

[5] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/20857165/move-or-copy-in-...

How many good questions do you see that are "CLOSED AS NOT A REAL QUESTION"? The site is fine for what it is, but there's definitely a market for building a better StackOverFlow.

That annoys the heck out of me, because if it truly is not a real question, then the "general masses" of answer authors would naturally agree. Instead some deletionist authoritarian jerk needs to force his idea on everyone else, because obviously no one else is worthy enough to make a judgment. Why feel the need to force what they call the truth on everyone, if it is in fact the truth? Or more likely they're full of it and just enjoy watching the world burn. The worst part is the selection of judges is based basically on who spends the most clock time googling for people too lazy to use google, it has nothing to do with taste or skill or ability or experience. Random selection would be more effective.

A site could be designed that isn't based on an anti-social, exclusionary, classist, authoritarian philosophy. The tragedy is it wouldn't look too much different than SO. So close, and yet so far...

"Instead some deletionist authoritarian jerk needs to force his idea on everyone else, because obviously no one else is worthy enough to make a judgment."

I think they caught this disease from Wikipedia, where deletionist authoritarian editors kill articles on real people because they're "not notable enough" while allowing thousands of words to be written about minor characters in TV series.

Usually questions are "closed" by 5 users (not by a moderator) so make it "5 jerks" (and I am one of them BTW...)

A question should be closed because it's a dup, or because it's not clear, or there's not enough information and the author didn't bother responding to the comments that mention that etc.

If you don't think so - you can write a comment and vote to "repoen". If you feel better by calling us "jerks" - good for you...

Happy new year!

Build your leveller's idea of Stack Overflow, then, and let it compete on its merits against the one which already exists. I'll be interested to see the result.

Closed as not a real question.

150 question upvotes.

Asking about the colour of the bikeshed always draws more upvotes and views than a question asking why the screws buckle and eject when the outside temperature reaches 30C but only if the interior is 21C.

Popularity does not mean a question is within the scope of the site guidelines.

> Popularity does not mean a question is within the scope of the site guidelines.

True, but it might indicate adequate reason for modifying the guidelines.

There is a time and a place for everything. For opinion-based questions about programming, that place is http://www.slant.co/ (not affiliated with Stack Exchange).

I just checked this out and it looks horrible. There are no categories. It's just a long list of unrelated questions, like "What's the best app for listening to music?" and "What's the best 2D graphics and physics engine?" It looks completely unusable.

This is one of the most annoying part of stack overflow,instead of closing the discussion,they should have a provision to move to more opinionated discussion list.

They do. When you vote to close a question (and anyone can do that, not just moderators), you have to give a reason. One of the predefined reasons is "belongs on SuperUser stack exchange," and another where you can fill in a reason, such as "belongs on Programmer stack exchange." (Programmer is for code review, style questions, opinion-based stuff, etc.)

My experience is that programmers.stackexchange is even more militant about closing questions than stackoverflow. I guess they got tired of receiving all of the unwanted garbage and it makes them extra sensitive.

I remember signing up for a news on a site "Not Constructive", here on HN a while back. I really wish it would appear.

http://slant.co is pretty much that.

StackOverflow seems to have devolved into a bunch of shit questions. Anything too technical doesn't get answered, since the real veterans have left, and anything not technical enough (like an approach to a problem) gets closed.

I loved SO in the beginning. Now it's a cesspool.

There are a few holdouts in certain areas. E.G. there's a pretty active and good Haskell community on SO currently.

>> the real veterans have left


That actually seems to be just the opposite of what he was saying. He stated that he believes this mechanism is broken, to the point that after two years of inactivity, the votes he receives his old answers have kept him in the top 3% of scorers.

He's not looking for votes, he's saying it's silly how trivial it is to get them, and also how many points he gets off of a simple LMGTFY answer (your quote), vs how few he gets off a well thought out and explained one (the kernel answer, I believe).

> and also how many points he gets off of a simple LMGTFY answer (your quote), vs how few he gets off a well thought out and explained one (the kernel answer, I believe).

I don't contribute much to SO, though I do a fair bit to some other SE sites (SF, SU, DBA) and it is the same on those but there is a fairly logical explanation most of the time.

A question that requires a more detailed answer is often more specific than one that doesn't, and that more general question is going to get a wider audience (both at the time and afterwards with people finding it in searches) so will attract more votes both for itself and the responses.

The points awarded to an answer are only really relevant within the context of question it is in response to (i.e. compared to the points awarded to other responses to that question). So if you care about your total score just answer simple general questions (this is perfectly acceptable behaviour, any useful answer is helpful to the site as a whole), if on the other hand you want a little mental stimulation answer some of the more involved questions instead.

True but nobody is refuting the logic of how it works. They're refuting the reasoning behind why it works that way. As is, you get more points and labeled as an expert of a language if you choose to answer the easy, low hanging fruit questions. On the other hand, if you actually are an expert of a language and tackle those questions that only experts can answer, you get 10x-100x less points.

But aren't the problems which only experts can answer by their very nature both problems that most people won't encounter and problems that most passers-by are not likely to feel confident passing judgement on possible solutions for? There is the "bounty" system which I think tries to account for that a bit but I don't see it often used, other than that the only way around the expert requiring problem problem is some form of manual curation by domain experts, which would potentially introduce a small shipment of other worm cans.

My point is that it's silly to care about how many points you have in the first place.

The people in charge of where the site "goes" via moderator tools are the people who play the game to accumulate points to get mod powers.

What you reward, you get more of. Therefore the site will move in the direction of point collecting game players.

Doesn't particularly matter what they "should" do, what the site is designed to do, intentionally or otherwise, rightly or wrongly, is what the site will do.

Telling everyone including the people in charge not to do what they are designed to enjoy doing is basically abstinence based sex ed. "Here's something you haven't seen, it's a lot of fun, now don't do it" Good luck with that.

Lets say HN karma points were rewarded on the basis of using the F word in posts. I don't think advising people the moral high ground would be to abstain would clean the place up, if the whole purpose of the design is to encourage it. This might actually be a funny April fools joke to think about...

I agree with that. Whenever I use the site, the 'description' from "Whose Line is it Anyway?" plays in my head.[0] However, it's the same as any website where there is a "karma" system (like this one for instance ;) ). It feel good getting points, it feels bad losing points. It feels good knowing you have tons, and are in the "Top x% of answerers" or whatever.

Do I think that's necessarily the right way to get people to come to your site and answer programming questions? Maybe not (no, I don't really), but it certainly does keep people coming back to the site. That and the fact that it's probably the biggest answer repository on the net.

Oh, and here's an upvote for you to show no hard feelings. I believe your general statement is correct, I'm just not sure that's what the author is going for.


It doesn't matter how silly you think it is. You don't create a system that reinforces bad behavior and then say "oh, but you should magically turn off your human nature and do the opposite of the what the system teaches you to do". Systems need to be designed to reinforce good behavior, otherwise we get reddit and HN and wikipedia and SO.

All systems that reinforce some behaviors reinforce some bad behaviors.

> The author's main problem stems from his desire to use Stack Overflow as a mechanism for gaining internet points

Nope. His argument is that the site encourages its users to behave that way and that this results in several very real, relevant, negative impacts on the usefulness of the site and the quality of the answers (and questions).

Your suggestions are not a sufficient solution for the problems he describes.

Is there any tangible, real-world value to points on Stack Overflow (maybe some form of recognition when applying for jobs), or are they really just imaginary internet points (like reddit karma)?

I suspect a high score might lead to higher income potential. I knew a guy who claimed his high SO score led to more recruiter spam.

It has been mentioned to me by recruiters as a positive thing.

I agree. I view SO in a similar manner as you. Several times I've been able to find explanations of bizarre behavior from different frameworks that weren't listed in the official documentation.

SO makes an excellent CV, like github.

Points ain't fully imaginary; they sometimes give top~100 users stickers or t-shirts (;

While you call out the author, note that the primary motivator StackOverflow offers to users are those very internet points you decry: You can't blame someone for playing to the very mechanics of the site.

Would StackOverflow be popular if it didn't have leader boards and reputation points and arrays of expertise-claiming badges? Would people spend their time working on other people's problems if it didn't earn them something they hoped to spin into professional credibility?

I suspect no.

And of course StackOverflow uses gamification to encourage people to do work for other people, for free. It is no big secret that many users are essentially free labor that do the dirty work of digging through a lot of terrible links on Google to try to find something that answers the question. For those who take advantage of this it is a wonderful resource.

There are some supremely excellent questions that through the crowd and wiki-like editing the answer ends up being exemplary. But in the general case it does seem that it allows people to skip the boring work and get groups of people fighting for badges and imaginary credibility to do it for you.

There is value in answering questions beyond just the points. A lot of answers require understanding the mechanics of the code and not just getting the right result. Then there is the matter of effectively communicating that to someone else. Last, there is feedback about your answer which further refines your skill.

He wants it to be an educational site instead of the much more pragmatic site that it is clearly designed to be. He doesn't have fun working in 2 languages he hates. He thinks that obscure answers that few people care about should count more than answers seen and used by many.

"Hey Doc, it hurts when I do this." "Stop doing that." -- He managed to play that out over a couple pages of bloated text and blames the site and not himself.

>> "the primary motivator StackOverflow offers to users are those very internet points"

I disagree. The reason I answer questions on SO is because of the incredible help I get from it form my own questions and those already answered. I think a lot of people contribute as a way of giving back and internet points don't encourage them in anyway. Sure there are people who internet points are important to but I would guess (and I admit I have no evidence to back this up) most of the people using SO care very little about points.

Some data points. Took a poll around our office (it was kind of thin because of the holiday) and of the 4 devs that responded and said they use SO, all 4 said they don't actually care about or pay attention to the points, they just use it as a source of information.

The vast majority of people using stack overflow are simply consuming questions/ answers they have arrived at via a Google search. These people won't care about points but it doesn't tell us anything about the motivations of those that are regularly answering questions.

Here's a data point from another end of the spectrum: I've provided more than 1000 answers. I love it.

If there were no StackOverflow I would use other means more: Usenet/mailing lists, irc.

I don't find it offensive that someone tries to reduce my motivation to accumulating points. It is just another example of "someone wrong on the internet".

As they say, "what gets measured gets managed." If you build your site around gamification, don't be surprised when your users try to turn it into a game.

(I say this clutching my own HN karma...)

I just spent most of my morning on my day off trying to solve someones problem on one of my user groups.

The LuaJIT author, Mike Pall recently stopped contributing to SO [0] after having an edit on one of his own posts about LuaJIT reverted by clueless mods [1].

The reply was highly precise and technical, and the reasons given by the mods to reject the edit are spurious, since they just couldn't understand it and its implications.

I reached out to two of them (I couldn't find how to contact the third one), but they didn't even reply to my mails.

[0] http://www.freelists.org/post/luajit/How-does-LuaJITs-trace-...

[1] http://stackoverflow.com/review/suggested-edits/3395606

It's generally accepted by the community at Stack Overflow that you don't edit other people's answers except to make improvements to formatting and punctuation. Changing the code should be left to the original author of the post, as that changes the meaning of the answer. The people who rejected the edit probably didn't notice that it was the same person who suggested the edit.

Mike could have avoided that by just using the same account to edit his original post. You can always edit your own work without it going through the review process.

FWIW, I've merged his accounts now.

Probably too late, but... If he ever decides to come back, he'll be able to edit his own posts without review.

Did you fix the edit also?

Somebody else already had, a month ago.


So eventually the system was self correcting. Unfortunately that may be too late to redeem the site in the eyes of the contributor.

None of that changes the fact that his valid edit was rejected by incompetent mods.

99.99% of the time, rejecting a suggested edit that changes code is the right thing to to. The competence of the reviewers isn't really the issue. The author should have just used his original account to make the edit and this would have been a non-issue.

He probably didn't realise he had two accounts.

The incompetence of the mods is relevant because it is one of the main criticism of TFA. It's a nice example of the Pete principle.

If a mod doesn't understand an answer he should just pass, not vote according to what's right most of the time. They are incompetent, both regarding LuaJIT and as moderators.

How many LuaJIT experts do you suppose there are reviewing edits on Stack Overflow?

He used to be there. You can't find a better expert.

I'd expect mods familiar with Lua to recognize him, and he should have mod powers, to begin with.

He doesn't even recognize that he's using two separate accounts, but other people are supposed to recognize him and his accounts should have mod powers?

Again, if he had just used his original account to edit his answer, he wouldn't have needed any of that.


He's a world class expert in compilers and high performance, low level programming on modern hardware.

This addresses the core point of the article, being that the SO "meritocracy" is badly implemented, and conflates heavy site usage with maturity and technical ability.

Edit: If not a mod status, a VIP status. SO would gain a lot if its staff were to individually recruit people as talented as he is.

This seems more like an argument that SO's "meritocracy" isn't perfect, not that it's poorly implemented. Having two accounts is an edge case.

You're using the fact that he had two accounts as an excuse, but it really doesn't hold up. This was an edit with inarguable merit. Yet users rejected it because they were using the heuristic "changes to code is bad" as a substitute for understanding the edit. That's bad moderation. If you don't understand a change, you shouldn't vote on its worthiness.

So instead of taking the one in a thousand chance that its the wrong thing to do (which, from what I've seen, is generous) they should let edits languish for days or weeks until someone sufficiently knowledgable shows up? That just doesn't sound like a worthwhile tradeoff.

If something should not be edited through another account, then the software should just not allow it.

If it allows it, and delegates the check to moderators, then these moderators should either reject it if they are sure the change is wrong. In all other cases they should allow it.

It's really that simple.

You have no idea what the spectrum of edits is on SO. Why do you think your heuristic is obviously better, despite making no argument for it?

The heuristic they use is something along the lines of "only accept edits that are grammar fixes, equivalent thereof, or rewordings". Content changes without the authors consent are considered poor form.

The biggest problem with this convention is that new & anonymous users cannot comment, so the only option they have is to edit the post. These then get rejected out of hand and useful contributions disappear. This is doubly wasteful since this behaviour often discourages people from every contributing again.

No, new and anonymous users do have another option, they can post their own answer.

That's irrelevant anyway, since that's not what happened here. The author of the post tried to edit his own answer with a second account. He should have just used his original account and this would have never happened.

No, new and anonymous users do have another option, they can post their own answer.

Which is less wrong than an edit but it`s still wrong when the appropriate response is a comment.

A community can be judged by it`s responses to newbies. By this measure it fails miserably since the most common feedback many newbies get from SO are bare downvotes and rejections. What should happen is a polite response explaining the problem and the what should be done to correct it.

Speaking as a contributor and reviewer on Super User and Stack Overflow, your opinion of what should happen is shared by more or less everyone who is an established member of the community. The trouble is that there are a lot of newbies, many of whom don't take time either to read the "about" and "how to ask good questions" advice which the sites make prominently available for new users, or to characterize their problem in sufficient detail to make it solvable, or to search for the trivially obvious answer to whatever question they're asking.

Once you've seen enough of this sort of thing -- and, again, especially on the highly popular sites there is a lot of it -- there's a certain fatigue which sets in; you get jaded, I suppose, and that seems from what I've seen to be the proximate cause for newbie questions getting downvoted to oblivion or flagged for closure without anyone taking a moment to advise the asker on what he should've done differently.

Is this ideal? Of course not; in fact, it's not even close, and I say that as someone who has considerable experience with the phenomenon so described. But Stack Exchange sites are moderated by volunteers, and you can't issue ukazes to volunteers without a significant risk of losing them -- after all, if you make them not want to do what they do, they'll just stop doing it.

In any case, just as a community can be judged by its attitude toward newbies, so can those newbies be judged by their attitude toward the community in which they attempt to participate. As in any other such case, it is entirely reasonable for those who have invested time and effort into Stack Exchange sites to expect that new users will deport themselves with respect for the rules and mores of the community.

With regard to giving the ability to comment to new and unregistered users, there's a problem similar to that of low-quality newbie questions; so to broaden the provision of commenting privilege would produce an instant and enduring deluge of spam. You really can't expect volunteers to handle sewage disposal, especially when the sewage is deep enough to require hip waders. Again, this is not ideal, but it is a consequence of the Stack Exchange model's basic assumptions, and I'd have to say that model has acquitted itself well enough in practice to vindicate the claims made on its behalf.

The appropriate response was an edit by the author with his original account, not a comment.

His edit wasn't rejected by mods. It was rejected by other users who have the power to review edits. A mod has a specific meaning within SE sites.

If he'd raised an issue on meta, I'm sure a real mod would have sorted this out, or he could have just used the same account to make this edit.

s/moderators/folks with lots of imaginary internet points enabling a restricted subset of the moderating powers available on SO/

You must also know about meta. I looked for ways to contact the mods in the UI and didn't find any. I suppose it's in the FAQ, but I didn't think about it at the time.

So "flag for moderator attention" means what to you?

It is nowhere to be seen. I'm logged out.

A very unfortunate incident, but there are bound to be mistakes made when there are tens of thousands of developers and over six million questions. Eventually, bugs are going to appear. The kind of dumb mistakes that developers (and other humans) make all the time. That doesn't make the error any less painful. Stuff happens.

I don't see how stopping contributing solves anything.

He doesn't care about SO, and his time is precious.

It looks like user Tobu already fixed it, but that is quite ridiculous.

Seems that the reviewers ignored the comment.

I know I have seen nearly 1 in 20 edit suggestions are some random person suggesting an edit to a post that completely changes the meaning.

DON'T TRUST ME BLINDLY: I work for Stack Exchange, so I'm totally biased. On the other hand, I left a lucrative career in finance for a lot less money here because I believe in what we're doing, so there's that.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: I appreciate Michael's feedback, and he worries about a lot of the same things I do. Moreover, we are incredibly grateful for all he's done over the years - my honest belief is that his contributions (even when they were just fish) helped a ton of people finish a project that may have been what made them LOVE programming. And those people did take the time to learn the fishing techniques underlying those fish, so they could do it better next time.

ON REWARDS: Points aren't the point. Let's be honest. We reward people for helping others with points that essentially convey nothing other than the ability to help in new ways (as you unlock new privileges). No one in their right mind is spending time on the site with the empirical goal of getting points.

The real reason people answer questions is that they like helping people. The points are important, but only insofar as they give you actual feedback on how many people appreciate your effort. The points aren't the reward; they're just a way to measure the real reward people care about: knowing how much of a difference you've made.

So when Michael worries about his points going up even after he's stopped posting, that's the system working. It's not about ensuring the right person is "winning" it's about showing how many people got help.

And he's still helping others today. I respect his decision to leave, but truly think he should be proud of what he's done for the programming community to date. In any case, we're grateful.

I really think SO is a gamechanger and I agree with you mostly, but I do think the points system is broken. SO offers all of these points and statistics that catapult people to positions of visibility, bestow clout, and unlock abilities on the site, and you're saying that they don't matter? They do. As a new user, it's practically unachievable to enter the top 10%, because all those people are still gaining points at an incredible rate, even if they're not actively contributing. It's a classic "rich get richer" dynamic. If the points really aren't the reward, then maybe they shouldn't be displayed right next to the user's username.

I disagree that it's practically unachievable to enter the top 10%. I did it in my first year (2 years ago) without even knowing that they kept track of that sort of thing. Answer a single question a day (correctly) and you'll get there easily. You'll actually be in the top 3-5% if you do that.

Add a custom search option that can filter people by reputation level, or by question to answer ratio.

I want to answer questions from people who are able to Google, and who are able to answer questions.

Another thing: add a custom search option that can find tumbleweed questions. I asked about it here:


But Jeff thought it was already implemented, when it's not. The advanced search finds questions with a minimum number of views, not a maximum number of views.

You may be able to implement this yourself using the data explorer:


You could do that as a direct step towards finding the questions you desire, as as a rhetorical move towards getting it implemented in SO.

> No one in their right mind is spending time on the site with the empirical goal of getting points.

But isn't that exactly what Michael was doing? He was posting help for two languages he loathed — help he probably wouldn't otherwise give — just because it got him points.

In addition, the Java help he was giving was not even his own knowledge. Just a Google search.

I like that you believe points aren't the point. That's good to hear. However, my experience on SO is as Michael describes.

The most helpful answers I've posted (especially the ones that are obscure workarounds for difficult bugs) have gained very few points. Most of the time I've gotten good answers to very difficult questions is when I either: answer them myself later, or offer a bounty. People strongly react to the points.

That's not to say SO isn't helpful. It helps me five to ten times a day — I find code snippets that achieve the effect I'm looking for. I could spend more time and read the documentation, figure out the right APIs, but that's a waste of time when I develop the same understanding by reading someone else's implementation.

It would be great if the point system scaled by the complexity of the question and answer. Though that seems impossible to determine.

Yup, the real wedge was wrapping a free service in a really slick interface. Points are just icing.

Another poster made a very good point about voting ring vandals and spammers, but I'm concerned about "expiry dates". An increasing number of the top SO results in google are answers that were correct but are now wrong. Things will trundle along for another few years, but at some point the correct results will become un-googlable.

Can you provide some examples of out of date posts?

Take a look at Android questions especially. The API has changed so much recently that many answers are obsolete.

Should they be deleted? Edited? I'm not sure I want to wade into the SO quagmire to fix them.

Thank you for all of your hard work, and the work of the SO team. Helping us share all these fishes around.

One may like helping the people generally, but real-time monitoring of unanswered questions for posting the FIRST answers.... that's something different.

Did SO get everything right? No.

Is SO the best code Q/A resource available? Absolutely yes.

Remember what was used before SO? Pure shit. Open-ended help forums scattered throughout the web that had little/no moderation and no indication of where the solution could be found in the discussion, or if a solution was ever found at all. SO's aligned everyone's incentives to post the solution & the site's formatting makes it trivial and find the best solution provided.

I've personally experienced times where my questions/answers have been affected by wikipedia-esque moderation, but at the end of the day I still click on SO results first in Google & and I still visit from time-to-time to see if I can help anyone out.

This is an excellent point.

Is the Stack Exchange model perfect? No.

Does it reward what the article's author calls "obsessive twerps" more strongly than it does anyone else? Arguably yes.

Can it be substantially improved upon? Almost certainly.

Is it nonetheless an enormous qualitative improvement on its predecessors? Good God, yes!

The article's author brings up the old saw about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish, and that's well and good. But sometimes you just need a fish.

Why I still contribute to SO:

- I've gotten a lot of help there

- It's nice to help other people in return

- Any answer I put there will be available via Google in 5 minutes, so I can definitely reference it myself in the future. (I'll even ask and answer questions I just figured out so that I can find them later.)

Unlike the OP who was playing the Stack Overflow game, I use SO like a typical programmer: I type my question into Google which often returns results from Stack Overflow. Sometimes I'll come across an unanswered question or one with a better answer, so I'll submit an answer. If I can't figure something out after a few hours of trying, I'll ask the question on SO.

Such questions and answers represent hours of effort on my part. That's fine -- I needed to spend most of those hours for my work anyways, but crafting a good answer does add a significant amount of time. They usually don't result in many points: they're pretty obscure. But often it's the only place on the interwebs where the question is answered.

But the answer that has earned me the most points is a stupid throwaway CSS answer that's technically wrong: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1817792/css-previous-sibl...

What does really annoy me are the badges. I've got a bunch of necromancer badges, which I'm proud of. But the value of those badges is really degraded by cheap silver and gold badges, such as yearling.

I don't really see those Necro badges as devalued by other badges. I have 14 of them that I'm pretty proud of. I think each one of them represents a good answer to a question most people had ignored or forgotten about. I'd much rather have a Necro badge than 10 upvotes on a question that 10 other people were racing to answer as soon as it was posted.

"In well over two years I have contributed nothing to StackOverflow: no questions, no answers, nothing. (Well, that's not true. When my score went over 10,000 I tried out the moderator powers for a couple of edits, just to test them out.) Over one third of my reputation was "earned" from me doing absolutely nothing for over two years."

So what? Apparently his answers were valuable enough and saved the time (and nerves) of many programmers who faced similar obstacles as original posters...

It seems only right to me that a great answer, a canonical answer, like - say - this one: http://stackoverflow.com/a/101561/168719 - can be fuelling its author's reputation long after it was written. Because it holds some universal value, unlike (say) a solution to a short-lived problem with NetBeans 6.1.

"Indeed I went from the top 4% of contributors at my time of departure to the top 3%"

OMG, I didn't realize this issue was so serious.

Now that's just horrible, somebody better stop this madness quick!

(I can't help but read his rant in Sheldon Cooper's voice ;) )

>"Indeed I went from the top 4% of contributors at my time of departure to the top 3%"

>OMG, I didn't realize this issue was so serious.

It's actually a fairly big jump. If you look at a distribution of Stack Exchange users[0], it follows a power law distribution, where many users have few points and a handful have a lot[1]. Once you reach the 96th percentile, it takes a fairly large jump in reputation to get to 97.

If I ran Stack Exchange, this might bother me because it suggests that many high-reputation users are no longer contributing. (Otherwise, other contributors would overtake the OP as they gain after-the-fact upvotes plus upvotes from new answers.) An alternate possibility is that the OP wrote answers that are unusually long-lived, garnering enough extra upvotes to make up for his lack of posting.

(All of this is not to pick on you. I just thought this was an interesting statistical point.)

Finally, it looks like percentile is calculated based on users with more than 200 or something similar. Otherwise, the OP would be in the 99.9th percentile based on his rank and the total number of users.

[0]: http://imgur.com/a/bfcSl

Data: http://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/edit/15710...

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_law

EDIT: Here's a better distribution of users' reputations: http://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/90233/repu....

This "alternate possibility" is one that came to my mind when I thought about this. Of course one could try to verify it.

And anyway - now, I understand that this is beside the point you are making now; just returning to the context set by the article - let me stress that I still fail to see how this is a problem.

It would be very simple to "fix" the scoring in this regard, all it takes is to disable voting in questions older than 30 days, for example. But I'm stumped on how SO would benefit from such a move.

Quite the opposite - this would be an obvious incentive for repeating oneself (or others); reposting old explanations to keep on scoring points off the same know-how. Plus time-wasting fights on what is and what is not a duplicate, etc.

I agree, I don't think SO would benefit from disabling voting on old questions. Don't you want to encourage people to write answers that are useful long after the fact?

The only benefit would be preventing the kind of bullying the OP. It would curtail systematic downvoting of past answers out of spite. But it's an extreme response to what I understand to be a rare problem.

By the way, this Data Explorer is very interesting, I had no idea it existed, thanks

Ironically, the question you linked to is exactly the kind that gets closed so often on StackOverflow as being "not a real question" or some such. Thankfully, when they close something it doesn't get deleted.

They do delete worthless questions, spam questions etc.

The example may be a bit off, I didn't put much effort into finding one (I just searched for questions tagged with design-patterns, since this is a relatively "timeless" subject, and I picked one with a highly-rated answer), so I surely could've chosen a better one, my point still stands I believe

Please everybody, please post your "obscure" questions to Stack Overflow. Yes, it's unlikely that you'll get a good answer in any sort of useful timeframe for many of the reasons the OP lists.

Sometimes you do get a good answer quickly, saving you hours of frustrating searching.

But most times you will have to spend hours figuring it out yourself or you'll end up giving up. Answering your own question won't get you a lot of points but it will probably get you a few over time. More importantly, because of SO's high google rank, you've made your answer easy to find for the next few people who have the same quesiton.

The core problem lies deeper than the reasons OP listed, though: Complex problems require tradeoffs, and tradeoffs require discussion. Stack overflows format is 100% incompatible with discussion. Thus, Stack overflow is largely incompatible with complex problems.

That's simply not fixable.

Incompatible by fiat, not by any technical reason. There is no reason the comment system couldn't be expanded into a more extended/threaded system to allow precisely that.

That and the "not a good fit" close reason is the primary thing wrong with SE.

No thanks, after seeing a perfectly valid DOS question get closed by incompetent moderation.

You may also get attempts at answers which don't answer the question, and then people whining at you to accept one when none of them are actually adequate. A small price to pay, admittedly.

The site seems designed to enable lazy developers to scrape by without learning how to do things properly. There are developers out there who, when faced with a problem, don't bother debugging, don't bother looking at the documentation, don't bother searching Google for the error message, but just post a question on Stack Overflow and wait for somebody to solve their problem for them.

I've seen questions where you can literally copy and paste the question into Google, look at the first result to find an authoritative source, and copy sample code to solve the problem. Yet that was apparently too difficult for the person asking on Stack Overflow, and if anybody points out they should be doing this, they get their comment removed.

I've answered a lot of questions where somebody is genuinely stuck on a difficult problem and it's taken serious effort to figure out what's going on. I've also answered questions where the answer is only a quick Google search away. The former get a couple of votes up. The latter get hundreds of votes up.

This is not a healthy addition to the software development community. This is enabling developers with a vitally important gap in their skills to avoid becoming competent.

Stop answering the stupid questions.

i left so a month ago, and while i agree with one point here (creeping authoriarianism) i am completely opposed to "teach a man to fish".

for me, as a professional programmer, that site is useful because it has direct, simple answers.

but it seems to have been taken over by students who are resentful that there should be simple answers without some evidence of suffering (it really seems to be that).

why should i have to explain "what i have already done" to a bunch of schoolkids when all i want is for someone who has solved this issue before to post the right answer so i can get on with life?

i'm an adult. i can make my own decisions about when i learn and when i want an answer. i don't need someone else's priorities - from a completely different context, apparently motivated by jealousy over grades - shoved down my throat.

but anyway, while that bugged me, it was the dismissive mods that finally drove me away (at 19k points).

(am i the only one that thinks that good questions - interesting ones - are no longer getting quality answers because people that could have answered them have left? and that they're no longer being asked as a consequence? the time when i wrote answers like http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7076349/is-there-a-good-w... has long, long passed)

Knowing what you have already tried is useful from a troubleshooting perspective...not to mention that if I suggest something you've already tried, it is wasted time on both our parts; mine for suggesting it and yours for waiting for me to make the redundant suggestion.

Many times there are multiple potential causes for an issue. Ruling out what has already been tried is what any competent troubleshooter is going to do.

Most of those "show your work" responses are designed purely to force the asker to prove that they have tried to solve the problem himself before asking Stack Overflow.

Showing your work can needlessly complicates the question, especially if it requires a lot of explanation. It's also irritating because someone knows the answer but is withholding it until you do what he wants.

I had that exact experience when I asked this question:


Right. The "show your work" stuff is about establishing a proof of work for effort expended on a question before anyone expends effort on an answer. It's a way of keeping the system honest, so askers aren't purely freeloading off answerers. It's a human blockchain!

Personally, I post each and every question I have to StackOverflow. When I figure it out, I take some time to write out a detailed answer to my own question.



a) I love contributing with the online developer community and sharing back all that I've taken since I started freshman year of college.

b) Writing it out step by step solidifies the knowledge within me.

It's a win-win!

Please keep doing this. I'm a total newbie - my first app (a very specific calculator for a small profession) is awaiting rejection from Apple. I'm yet ready to ask questions on StackOverflow as I know perfectly well that everything I could think of asking has been asked before. I spend hours reading there and have always found my answer. Those who take the time to answer are appreciated.

This reminds me of an old talk radio adage: don't mistake callers for listeners. The people who call into a radio show represent a fraction of the audience, and are often the most extreme, polemic, loose hinged segment of that audience. And most people don't call.

In the SO world, I'm definitely a "listener." I almost always wind up on the site from Google, and it usually does a pretty good job. I don't think I've ever navigated around the site itself, so the "game-ification" or whatever was completely foreign.

I will say that there have been numerous times where there are pretty good subjective or opinion based discussions (which language is better for x?) that get "closed as non constructive." I can understand why they would want to avoid flame wars, but almost always the discussions were, ironically, very constructive, nor could I find the same type of discussion anywhere else.

I wish there were a site for subjective opinions. I often want to know what is a better library for a specific task.

That would be http://slant.co.

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with slant.co, but I am a Stack Overflow moderator. I like slant.co a lot.

IMHO, The banning of "what have you tried", and the removal of "too localized" will lead to even more poor pedagogy.

The question to which the author links (2387218) is a perfect example of a wholly unresearched question, where the only possible valid answers are "RTFM/STFW" or "here's a fish".

This was the kind of thing that would have been deleted under "too localized" as it offers no benefit for future seekers of enlightenment.

I suppose it may be flagged for deletion according to this criterion:

> Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Include attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results.

but that doesn't quite seem to fit. The question is not "give me teh codez", but it does show that the asker has not attempted any solutions.

> There's an old cliché in English: give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. StackOverflow is filled to the brim with people giving fishes.

This hits the nail on the head, imo. While the SO system is (presumably) meant to reward "karma" based on the quality of answers, more often than not it seems that quantity is just as important. And it's not hard to see why this is the case -- there's an inherent risk in typing a well thought-out (read: time consuming and potentially long) answer, when a simple one-liner is probably all the questioner is really seeking.

On the other hand, maybe that's what StackOverflow is really for -- getting things done, NOW. Even if that "getting things done" answer is just a band-aid, and the questioner hasn't really learned anything.

In my experience, people who find themselves applying band-aid after band-aid to their code (myself included) rarely connect the dots all the way back and realize that all their subsequent problems were largely due to their initial "fix".

Paraphrasing: 'the SO system rewards karma based on the quality of answers'

Fixed: 'the SO system rewards karma based on the number of people that find an answer useful'

The population of people needing answers is heavily biased towards newbies. 100% of new programmers need answers to simple questions. (And only a small fraction of them have learned how to use search Google or documentation properly.) 60% of those never move on to more advanced questions [0]. Therefore advanced questions cannot ever target more than 40% of the total user base, where basic syntax-questions target 100%.

It's even worse when you consider that most of the really advanced questions that can generate the most awesome answers are never asked because the advanced users know how to teach themselves and don't need SO.

[0] http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2006/07/separating-programm...

I totally agree with the general gist of your comment, but I think that it's entirely possible to have high-quality answers that aren't necessarily advanced.

more often than not it seems that quantity is just as important. And it's not hard to see why this is the case -- there's an inherent risk in typing a well thought-out (read: time consuming and potentially long) answer

This is what turned me off from SO. The strategy to garner points (at least in the topics I'm expert in) is to lurk waiting for quickly-answered questions. Pounce on these, by entering a rough, approximate answer, so you can score the credit. Then, if you're feeling charitable, go back and flesh it out properly once you've got the karma in your pocket.

Time and again I've entered a correct and complete answer, to score nothing because somebody beat me (and I'm a very fast typist, btw) with a quick one-liner that provides little value - and in many cases, hasn't even been completely correct. On more than one occasion, after reading the "winning" answer, I've been left frustrated, thinking "come on, that sample you posted won't even run, let alone do what you claim".

I suppose that part of the blame lies with those seeking answers. The user interaction is such that they'll allocate upvotes when they see something that looks promising. Once they've actually tried it, and found that answer wanting, there's little incentive to go take back the undeserved rewards.

The green check mark is worth 25 points, one time, and an asker can reassign it (and the points) if a later answer proves more worthwhile than one already accepted. Every upvote is worth 10 points, and an answer can get upvoted for as long as it exists.

If you're playing the game for points, the way to win it is to find questions with lots of Google juice, and then answer them with every bit of correctness and completeness you can possibly muster. This strategy requires patience and discipline, which the "throw off a quick stupid answer as fast as possible" strategy admittedly does not. Over time, though, it's bulletproof, and if you're going to play the game for points in the first place, then I think this is the best way to combine that and actually contributing something worthwhile.

I usually write the short answer and submit, and then edit to provide more detail to avoid this problem.

His bullet #2 under "Creeping authoritarianism" is so incredibly correct! It's exactly what happened to wikipedia, and why editors are leaving in droves.

With Stack Overflow it's simply not worth it to answer a difficult question, the time to point ratio is just not there, and to make it worse it's all about speed - how fast you can answer, because once the question goes off the home page you will get basically no points. So a hard question is doubly bad - it takes a long time, and by the time you are done you'll get no points.

Yep. Any community that gives censorship powers to an "elite" group runs into this problem. I'd add to his points (which are good) by noting that when your job description involves censoring, the obvious way to make it look like you're doing your job is to censor lots of stuff.

This is just a gut feeling, but (at least for the stuff I tend to search for) Google results leading to Stack Overflow are more likely than not to wind up on a page that's been zapped by a "moderator".

If you're running a Q&A site, and people are Googling the Q's, it would behoove you to have the A's. Or so it seems to me. Apparently SO management has a different opinion.

The difference with SO was (supposed to be) that the only people who got those privileges had high karma which was earned by being a good citizen of the site.

I found the entire post really bitter, but yeah, that part was incredibly interesting. Wikipedia is basically in the hands of an incredibly pedantic bureaucracy which is far more obsessed with process and incredibly obscure rules rather than producing quality articles.

When top tier NASA scientists find their edits to global warming articles changed by homeschooled children who spend every waking moment on wikipedia, you know the system is broken.

I haven't been to SO in months. I haven't contributed with a reply to a question in probably two years. I haven't posted a question in about as long. Same with ServerFault and other SE communities.

I've seen what's happening on SE before. It was called USENET back then. The best way I can describe it is that marauding hordes of extremists aggressively took over some groups mercilessly attacked anyone deviating from their vision of the world. I remember comp.lang.c becoming particularly problematic.

OK, a little over the top. Well, yes and no. One of the most frustrating things on SE and SF are the questions that are closed as off-topic when they very much are on topic. I haven't been on either of those for a while. Back a some time ago there seemed to be a war of sorts going on between the two communities's moderators as they would close topics in each and send them off to each other. For example, if I remember correctly, questions related to XAMPP was a hot-button item that almost guaranteed your question would end-up in digital limbo. In this sense, it very much started to feel like USENET when the inmates took over the asylum.

When I got started with SE I felt a responsibility to give back as much as I took. I remember devoting significant amounts of time to answering questions with well-tested clear explanations. As you clash into the reality of what these communities have become (both in terms of quality of content and quality of the people who pull the strings) the motivation to contribute at that level --or any level for that matter-- tends to go down.

Not sure what's in store for SE. It just isn't an important part of my daily routine in any way these days. I suspect this might be the case for a lot of professionals who have far better things to do with their time and skills than to play such games for points and badges.

The OP complains that he got 5000 points for doing "nothing". On the contrary, I think those are the most valuable points. If your answer is still useful to somebody 2 years later, that's a great indicator on how useful your answers were.

>It's possible because I did what many of the people whose questions I answered (and got points for) should have done for themselves: I saw a simple Java question, hit Google, read briefly, then synthesized an original answer.

I had a very similar experience. I got the most points (3 times as many as any other question I ever answered) from showing how to perform the most basic task in ckEditor, I library I had not used before or since answering.

On the other hand, I would often spend hours getting a demo to work to demonstrate a concept that answered the person's unanswered question and writing a detailed explanation... then nothing. No response. Out of spite, I started deleting all my answers that were not accepted and had no upvotes.

Your answer probably is the top response on Google.

I also find the quality of answers, and of questions(!) poor. A little googling usually finds better information. And then there's the line-going-dead issue that plagues most question/answer forums (fora?): after some back-and-forth somebody suggests to try something, and the supplicant never responds. Did that work, and they went on with their life? Did they give up? Are they still trying to find an answer? Nobody will ever know.

I think the huge influx of low quality, often unanswerable questions is the biggest problem facing Stack Overflow. They make it much more difficult for expert programmers to find the interesting questions that deserve an answer. There are tools in place to remove these questions, but not enough people are using them.

That could be cleaned up by having the system either flag or remove questions that have no conclusion.

While it is true that simple answers get a lot of credit, it is also true that most common questions have simple answers. Sure a bit of Googling may get you the answer but sometimes it takes an experienced user to find a Google answer. Just knowing the right thing to search for requires some skill. Dead obvious questions that can be easily Googled or are repeats are flagged and often removed.

Sure in an ideal world someone answering that very specific question that is difficult to answer would get more credit but it is not perfect. That is also why the bounty system exists because someone can have a specific hard to answer question that would be very beneficial to them while not many others would be helped and thus upvote. So that person can offer a bounty.

The main value I get from stack overflow is easy to find answers to easy questions. I find it easier to find documentation of how to do X on stack overflow than I do in the manuals for most of the tools I use.

Here is the workflow:

1. Google 'question string'

2. Click first stack overflow link

3. Skip to the first answer without reading the question.

This, incredibly, works for about 80% of the things I need to look up day to day. I often find that I either need a simple example, or just need my memory jogged. In my opinion the entire internet is better because of the existence of this one site.

I agree with all of the author's points, but I think stack overflow is worthwhile despite these problems. And trust me, I've gotten my own snarky, low effort, infuriating, heavily upvoted, answers from Jon Skeet.

I stopped contributing to SO because of this:


Specifically, to keep SO interesting to me, I wanted to have a custom search that eliminated low-rep users from my view - questions from people who are able to answer questions (e.g. able to Google) are much more interesting.

I want to tell the OP to stop being such a buzz-kill, but the high-scoring example he posts is quite comical (http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2387218/what-does-this-li...).

It seems that most of the OP's angst are over the relatively simplistic points system. In his Java ternary example, perhaps it could be counterbalanced with the upvotes you receive and the worthiness of the question (as marked by stars and upvotes). But then the scoring system would become much less obvious and then you'd have complaints about that.

Either way, even with the deluge of non-useful content...I'm amazed at Google's ability to almost always get me to the most relevant discussion, even with a bare amount of generalizing my search query...and in the cherry-picking testing I've done, the Google search engine usually does a better job than SO's own engine (though SO's related-questions sidebar is also quite good). I wonder if some Googler's 20%-time idea was to closely study the SO API and build an algorithm and quality flags specific to the SO domain, as a way to keep devs loyal to the Google search platform?

I think "the worthiness of the question" is proxied by the upvotes on the answer.

Imagine two good answers, one on an advanced question and one on a very basic one. The basic answer gets way more upvotes. Is that unfair? It helped a lot more people, apparently, which is the goal of the site. It more readily demonstrates that the author creates content that helps a lot of people, which is the goal of points.

As long as you don't imagine that more points means more knowledge, I don't see the issue.

I think most of you are missing the point of the article. He targets SO specifically in this article but really, it can be applied to almost any community on the Internet. He mentions Wikipedia specifically but I've seen the same thing repeated over and over on forums, games, and even the IETF for over a decade.

The question is: Is there a way to fix this?

I don't think so. As an Internet community grows, it loses focus and it changes, which makes it different (not necessarily "bad", but a different one that started). Also, the increase in number of members makes more difficult to follow who the members are, which is one of the key points of making you feel "part of the community" (plus the potential increase in trolls, even if signal to noise ratio is still good) There are also stuff like repeated subjects, etc...

I've been in enough communities to see the same pattern repeated. I'm not really sure it can be fixed...

Fix what exactly?

Why would anyone care whether one Mr. Richter bothers to collect more points in Stack Overflow anymore?

Despite ALL the criticism in the article, it is still possible that StackOverflow is a very useful site.

Overall I agree, but I think his analogy of feeding fish vs teaching is a bit of a chicken and egg problem: oftentimes today if I'm googling a trivial problem, Stack Overflow is the first result, and I'm actually glad that is the case the majority of the time.

Seriously, this is what I want as well. I don't want to read a years-old forum thread full of whitespace and content-less replies or, god forbid, EE, to figure out the answer. I'm glad SO is filled to the brim with direct answers to a myriad of questions. Saying it's ruining pedagogy is over-thinking the site's purpose.

I appreciate the author's opinions overall, so this is a nitpick of just one of his core arguments. I think he is inverting the value of certain kinds of questions. To me, Stack Overflow is valuable primarily for the simple answers to simple questions, and secondarily for the complex answers to hard questions.

As a software developer well into my second decade of professional experience, I maintain a small number of technologies at what you might call an expert level. These technologies shift in and out of focus depending on what my current projects are.

When I complete a project and don't use the technology for more than a year or so, I've found that I forget all of the nitty gritty stuff and remember all the big conceptual stuff.

For example, I recently returned to Java after several years of disuse. All the bit conceptual stuff that was really hard for me to pick up initially, like polymorphic behavior, multithreading, etc., was still there. The easy but nit-picky stuff was all gone. I'd forgotten when boxing happens and doesn't happen, the behavior of equals in reference vs value types, even where I'm supposed to put certain syntactic elements. Simple questions on StackOverflow to the rescue!

As another example, I did a large project involving SVG in the early 2000's and got to the point where I knew as much as there was to know about it. I recently did a quick one-off project that utilized SVG, and I found that I'd retained the big conceptual ideas, such as the behavior of the coordinate system, the hierarchy of shapes, viewports, groups, etc., but I'd totally forgotten a huge laundry list of practical nitty-gritty things about actually making an SVG experience work.

In the Java example I was embarking on a large project, so I hit the books and re-taught myself to fish again, because it was quite worth my time investment to start from the fundamentals and work my way back up. In the SVG example, I literally just wanted to do something in an afternoon, and I knew SVG could do it, and I wasn't going to do any SVG work after that. Hitting the books and teaching myself to fish in that scenario would have been a waste of time. So I plowed through and was helped immensely by the simple-question simple-answer Stack Overflow scenario.

Then there's a whole list of technologies that I really don't have the brain-space to keep abreast of, but I still need to use. For example I am not an expert at shell scripting, but on occasion I need to write one. Back to Stack Overflow and the simple answers to simple questions.

Before Stack Overflow I wouldn't have been in the dark--as a long-time Internet community member, I would have gone through the usual: find the right community with the most helpful people, hope the community has a search engine or is well indexed by Google, read through long lists of replies without a voting system or assessment of quality, rinse-repeat. Stack Overflow speeds that process up immensely.

I moved from Perl to Python around 3 years ago. And google searches went from Perl Monks to SO. At first I found Stack Overflow nicer, with its clean modern interface, but as time goes by, I see the moderators attitude getting worse an worse.

Perl Monks encouraged discussion and deeper learning, even though a lot of it came down to Perl Golf.

Yeah, agreed, the other half of things that I didn't mention is that when I do find a good stand-alone community around a technology, that tends to be my go-to place. Especially for free ranging conceptual discussions.

What I see more of these days is a Google Group, or mailing list, or forum with a lot of core users discussing things, planning the future, debating, etc., and then a lot of reference back to Stack Overflow for particular questions that get asked a lot.

And that's really the core purpose of Stack Overflow. When it comes to writing documentation, the area that tends to have the most potential but the least realization of said potential is the FAQ. FAQs provide another dimension to documentation because they address the, "Well, given that I read this documentation, I still don't get X" scenario. No matter how well written the documentation is, there will be things that are not answerable, because software is so multidimensional. Usually the way a FAQ works out is that the person writing the documentation remembers a bunch of questions that were asked and answers them in place. Hopefully people come in later and fill in more answers based on questions that come in later. In the end it languishes. People have tried to address this via forums, wikis, and mailing lists, but in the end forums are a good place for narrative discussion, wikis are a good place for writing documentation period, but both are poor for FAQ because of their built in time decay, lack of voting, etc.

In that sense, Stack Overflow is a FAQ engine is appropriately geared toward explaining particular answers to particular questions.

That said, Stack Overflow became more than that after its community exploded, and I share in the annoyance when some of the more interesting free-ranging questions get shut down because they're open ended. I am not wholly on the side of FAQ-type lockdown.

Michael Richter mistakenly assumes that "hard work == productivity".

"Tough to solve C++ problems" are not in as high demand as relatively easy to answer Java questions. Stack Overflow scoring system captures that.

demand != productivity

Questions that google can answer are low-productivity, possibly anti-productive if they cause people to hit stackoverflow instead of language docs. Hard questions can completely save the day of a few people, and teach even more.

High demand for your effort means that your efforts scale better, which in turn improves productivity.

If your answer saved 30 minutes of effort for 10000 developers then it's 5 times better than to save 10 hours of effort for 100 developers.

If the easy questions were saving the time of that many people I wouldn't expect them to be re-asked so often. And the tricky expert-needing questions can teach you something about the language/platform/etc. even if you never encounter that specific problem. The 'fish' questions don't do that so much.

Just to add to that: it seems like stack overflow/exchange is really helpful when people can verify for themselves whether an answer is correct or not. Did the shell script modify the right files, does this SQL query return the right results, etc. It breaks down where beginners can't tell which of the answers is correct, which is usually the big conceptual stuff.

In four years you should have learnt that it's "Stack Overflow" with a space and that you can only get moderator status when you have a diamond next to your name.

Then again, there are plenty of 3-year+ users with 100k+ who still think moderators are any other users who disagree with them and/or can only vote to close a question.

When you don't want to see the effects of leaving joke questions around as more and more users use that as a reason to increase the noise, then you don't want to see why moderation and locking/deleting needs to take place.

There are a set of tools that you gain access to when you hit 10k reputation, which are often referred to as the "10k moderator tools." I think this is what the author is talking about when he says he was close to moderator status.

Reading the other comments here, a lot of people think mods are those with 2k. Or at least those with edit privileges.

Remember how I have over 14,000 points as of this writing? (...) In well over two years I have contributed nothing to StackOverflow: no questions, no answers, nothing. (...) Any scoring system that allows this to happen is simply broken in my opinion.

That's pretty much how our "real world" scoring system works if you think about it. To make it simple, just replace the "internet points" by "money" and your "stackoverflow account" by a "savings account" that pays interest and the analogy is set ;)

My problem with Stack Overflow is that it basically feels like a ghost town when I try to use it. The Ember people encourage users to use SO for help, and shut down posts to the Ember discussion board that are too "helpy". But whenever I've asked a question on SO, I've gotten literally zero responses. I have no idea why. Does having a better reputation actually lead to you getting more answers? I don't even know, so I don't bother trying. Many of the things I try to do on SO I can't, because I don't have the right reputation. It mostly feels like an impenetrable, confusing castle full of useful stuff that I can only watch from outside.

Instead, I just blog solutions to various thorny problems I run into, so that other people can find them on Google. And I try to use whatever domain-specific message boards I can find. I just don't understand how to use SO to get help so I don't bother.

And it's not that I don't want to contribute. I've answered some questions on SO and I'd be happy to answer many more than the questions I ask. But my (uninformed) sense is that I could answer questions til I'm blue in the face and no one would ever answer mine. The ratio of unanswered questions to answered ones is insane. It just doesn't feel like there's a community there that I'm joining.

That said, I find it incredibly useful when there's already an SO solution that comes up in Google that solves my problem.

To me Stack Overflow is the new "Experts Exchange"

I love Java and I love the Java ecosystem. Stack Exchange serves the Java ecosystem very poorly however.

A lot of the frustration people have with Java is that they try to learn it from a task-oriented perspective, and that really gets you in trouble if you work with Spring or Maven, particularly on a big team. If your first experience is with a 40-module Maven project that is all SNAPSHOT releases, it takes two hours to do a complete build, and there are just two people who understand maven vs 23 developers who get their answers a problem at a time from StackOverflow and who copy each others' bad solutions while adding more problems, of course you hate Maven.

In the case of Maven the documentation sux and you need to read the source code and not be afraid to write plug-ins, but Spring is not so mysterious if you take your tablet to the gym and read the manual cover to cover a few times.

There is no language that favors holistic thinking and punishes "task-oriented" thinking more than Java. For instance, when most developers have to deal with logging it's because things have gotten horribly tangled up with slf4j and commons-logging. Once more, the situation is pretty simple if you understand the big picture, but from a task oriented perspective you're just stumbling in the dark.

Somewhat tangential to the OP but as someone who is much more of a consumer than a contributor, I've become increasingly less enamored with Stack Overflow over the years just because of the vast increase in times I'll search for some exact issue, find a link where the question exactly matched the problem I'm having, see that it has an answer with like 10 upvotes, find the answer to be wrong either because it is just straight up incorrect or because it is "correct" but not answering the actual question as asked, and often I'll see a comment to the answer from the original asker mentioning that the answer is wrong, but then no follow-up discussion.

I think this may be in large part a negative side effect of the "gamification" because this rarely happened back when usenet posts (searched via deja or google groups) or dedicated forums for topics would be my source for finding programming answers in subjects I was unfamiliar with (new API, new language, etc). In those places if I found a question that matched mine well, and it was answered, there was a very high percentage chance the answer was correct and not just someone guessing or answering half-assedly and too quickly to get in on the karma train.

These wrongly-answered answers seem to dissuade others from answering (question too old, already sort of answered, nobody will see my correct answer and upvote it), so this wrongly answered question just lingers seemingly forever. If the moderators spent half the time pruning out these wrong answers that they do closing topics that are borderline off-topic, the site would be a far better resource for me.

Growing up, a good portion of my summer (and spring, and fall...) was spent helping out in my family's rather large garden.

Most of this involved rather tedious, repetitive labor. So to stave off boredom, we made up games to go along with it. "Fastest to finish hoeing a row of corn", "Most peas shelled in a minute", etc.

It helped. We got a lot more done, faster, and with less complaining because of it.

But... The games weren't really the goal, and no one ever thought otherwise: the point was the creation and preparation of food for the next year. If you "won" by chopping down all the corn or throwing out the unshelled peas, no one would think highly of you for doing so.

Too many people look at games - or especially "gamification" - as a silver bullet that will turn the efforts of lazy and unproductive players into gold... This is exceedingly naive. Any game played in bad faith will have disappointing results, whether the mechanics of that game involves throwing a ball around or answering programming questions.

Is that a good reason not to play? Hell no! Games are fun, and with the right players and attitude can be exceedingly rewarding. But you do need to keep some perspective, to remember at all times why you're playing.

Any idea where they went wrong? Any suggested alternative?

Some trivial Java question gets one more points than a brilliant solution for some obscure problem - okay. Isn't that the nature of all things? Is this StackOverflow's fault?

He recommends:

"Engage with other users of the tools you use in the form of user groups, mailing lists, web forums, etc."

Don't "mailing lists, web forums" suffer from the same bias? Even if there is no formalized reward system (points) there?

While OP makes some valid points (i.e. community receptivity), this is something that caught my attention:

    > StackOverflow is filled to the brim with people giving fishes.
Perhaps. But those get only a few points. Joel Spolsky wrote about not only answering a specific domain question, but rather writing a comprehensive answer about some topic in a away that it becomes the default answer everyone reverts to when the question comes up again (http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/08/reputation-not-rep/)

I tried that. Guess what happened:


Not saying my answer is awesome, but I just tried to be comprehensive on a very recurring SQL topic and the community responded very positively to it.

I get it, SO feels like a game. But I use it to hone my skills and learn new things. When I want to learn, I don't ask on SO: I stick to a tag and keep trying to answer something on it. Learned a lot that way.

Just my 2c.

I only answer questions that aren't googlable. Edge cases in hedge libraries basically. I give comprehensive and detailed answers that reflect the hours of research I had to do. They get upvoted a few points every now and then.

I once answered a Java frameworks question with an opinion. It has gathered nearly a thousand points over the last few years.

The game is broken. Bad answers to stupid questions get all of the points and I raise an eyebrow every time a CV lands on my desk enumerating the candidates SO points.

But it's still a well optimised site that beat experts exchange, so it doesn't matter too much.

"Over one third of my reputation was "earned" from me doing absolutely nothing for over two years. Indeed I went from the top 4% of contributors at my time of departure to the top 3%, despite, you know, me not doing anything."

I don't see the problem here. He's not getting points for doing nothing. He's getting points for something he did in the past. Sort of like royalties.

Okay, so I literally can't imagine programming nowadays without Stack Overflow. Sure, google synthesized answers may be a cheap way to score points (actually I'd never thought to do that), but people that do that are still saving me time. And even though some answers do skip the art of "teaching a man to fish" there are still TONS that do "teach a man to fish."

I feel the same way and in a similar position as the OP.

I don't think #1 and #2 are really a big deal. #3 is the real issue. The problem is SO still follows slavishly an ideology proposed by one of its founders, I think it was not really Joel's views so much if you followed the podcast discussions. This ideology has persisted in the mega meta bureaucracy that is SO now.

Of course, it is always funny that their presumable goal was to be the destination for technical for answers but yet any question you might google and find answers on StackOverflow, the answers will, with a probability of nearly 1.0 that it will be locked, closed, and marked some kind of horrible thing that should haver appeared on the site. Good job, I guess. If SO was meant to fix the wretchedness of forums .., what fixes SO? I don't know. But with the fury that it attacked the other forms of communication I just expect more than endless "philosophizing" about "what makes a good question" and all this meta ideological nonsense. Maybe it's just me.

Stack overflow is awesome. I asked a question about message pack and the author of the software responded.

Ignoring the gamification of S.O. the community that surrounds it and the sheer amount of knowledge it holds makes it an incredible resource never seen before in the history of programming.

Sometimes it seems like human beings could live in a golden palace and be upset that the gold is the wrong color.

"Indeed I went from the top 4% of contributors at my time of departure to the top 3%"

That seems to indicate that stack overflow had considerable growth in the number of contributors, relatively few of which acquired large scores (for example, if there were no 'effortless scoring', they would need 33% growth of users who all have lower scores in order to make the former top 4% become the new top 3%)

That might be an indication that there are fewer users who play the "I want points" game. It would require access to quite a bit more data (who joined when, what do the distributions of scores look like, etc) to prove that, though.

If it turns out that there still are lots of users chasing high scores, I think it might be worthwhile for Stack Overflow to play with different scoring functions. For example, h-index is popular in scientific papers. One could do a SO h-index (has X answers that got at least X upvotes). Maybe, to encourage diversity, one could add "... With X different tags" to the requirement.

I have basically the exact same experience with SO as the author. I was in the beta group, I currently have moderator permission levels, and I hardly ever use the site.

It's great finding specific answers to highly specific questions that a large number of devs can help with. It's terrible at keeping many of the most experienced devs interested in answering questions. And it's not great as a general learning resource either. The site just stalls out at a low to moderate level of sophistication in terms of the level of knowledge that can be found there, for all of the reasons the author described.

Edit: after some reflection, here is a stronger critique of SO:

SO leverages a huge amount of effort from developers for very little real benefit. Some of the site has value but a lot of it boils down to moderately experienced devs spoon feeding answers to beginning devs, which I think could be more detrimental than helpful. By doing so such beginning devs avoid the hurdle of having to RTFM, which stunts their growth. They avoid having to level up their skillset and they know that they can just return to SO when they have their next problem, so they are discouraged from acquiring the skills to solve their own problems, they will stall out at a beginning skill level forever. Meanwhile, as many people have pointed out the true point of crisis in skill/project development lies not at the beginning but after the initial hump, after years of work. And here devs are not well served by SO because they need more than just an answer to a specific question, they need guidance, they need mentoring, they need encouragement. SO's nearly pathalogical lack of community makes it a very poor place to seek out assistance during that phase of personal development.

In short: SO may be helping the wrong people and discouraging folks who are more in need of assistance and for whom being helped would have a vastly greater positive benefit on the industry as a whole.

<i>... so they are discouraged from acquiring the skills to solve their own problems...</i>

Nobody is discouraging anything from anybody. SO is mainly a resource for programming problems.

For the life of me I can not understand this expectation that SO is a tutoring site. It is not. As a developer resource it is invaluable, and free.

While I find Stackoverflow and most other Stackexchange sites VERY often helpful and interesting, I thinks as well that it is the child of the "SEO triumphs it all" times.

Additionally it is geared towards STATIC knowledge. Chosen "best" answers (CURRENTLY!) and the fact that most of the time no one is actually updating their votes according to the CURRENT state of the art or current established best practices actually can even drive info seeking users towards out dated answers...

Still, most of the time I think it works just fine for the folks just in need for quick "how do I convert x into y in language z" answers.

To tackle the non-static, more dynamic and actually fleeting aspects of "voting for the best" aspects I am working on and experimenting with Sustinion


Under "poor pedagogy" the author explains the "give a man a fish" problem on Stack Overflow, then goes on to explain that giving fish is how he gained most of his reputation. How about being part of the solution instead of part of the problem? No one is stopping you from teaching people how to fish.

The system is such that there's no incentive to teach people how to fish. First, the best way for people to learn is not by completely solving the problem for them, but that's what people want in an answer. Second, by the time you've written out a pedagogical response, other people have swept in with quick, just-give-me-the-fish answers, and the question asker has moved on.

I don't really need incentive from the site to teach people how to fish. I just like doing it. More often than not, I learn something myself.

I don't really post on StackOverflow - people have tended on the rude side a little more than should be the norm there from my experience. I use IRC heavily though for my programming help needs. SO is nice for its searchability though, and how many solutions to problems are posted there. It has its utility.

Most of this is just a symptom of Stack Overflow being too successful. It was good when it was just a few thousand good/nice people. Now that it has critical mass, you have to deal with the rest of the people. I doubt that the problems are going to be solved by having good people leave.

"The people asking are learning nothing useful beyond the shortest of the short terms"

Not for me. It's my go to place to find syntax equivalent examples for languages I don't typically use. If Google has a universal translator for code, I'd probably use that instead.

I find it interesting that there aren't more comments on this post; wondering is some Hacker News SO contributes disagree with Richter. I usually find myself kindda needing to comb through lots of SO answers to find something that actually explains a solution to a problem. I think that SO is a site you go to to when you don't have much time to actually learn what need to know. However, I should add that I have gotten good link by contributors that have helped me learn more about the topic of my question. Perhaps this is that we should be doing - sharing validated material that explains the topic one is trying to understand.

Ha. I have never started contributing to Stack Overflow, because it won't let me. It appears that you can't provide answers without first asking questions. When I have questions, I use Google or IRC. Every now and then Google throws up SO questions I can answer (or improve answers to, or point out FAIL in the answers to) on the way to my finding an answer to the original question, and I log in to SO and try to contribute...

So my attitude to SO is pretty much "meh". I'll take useful answers (and sometimes there are really good ones), but if they don't want me to contribute, stuff 'em.

> It appears that you can't provide answers without first asking questions.

That's not true. You can write answers right away, but you need to acquire some rep before you can write comments .

Over the last year or so I saw that the community has become too pedantic. I have tried to start some (what I thought were) valid system related discussions by asking open ended questions. They were closed as too open. Having seen some very open ended questions on stackoverflow show up on HN and other places I was really disappointed with it. The users close questions without giving any reason why or how to ask the question properly. I don't ask questions on there frequently and but the quality of my questions has remained the same but the way the community approached it was really different.

It's funny to see a guy who spent time on Google to research and answer trivial questions for points call people with more points than him "no-lifers".

Then there's the part about giving fishes instead of teaching how to fish. Duh. That's what the site is about. It's a resource for fishermen. It's a nice place to get samples of fishes you haven't heard of. You're free to just eat them, or study them further.

SO is amazing as a super cheat-sheet. It's not a tutorial, a school or a a forum. It's not Reddit or Farmville. Please stop.

I've occasionally found, via google search, a good answer on SO for a question I had. But it's rare. I don't ever think to go there to search directly, and I don't participate in answering questions there.

I find it's much more effective to simply read the documentation of the language/function/feature I'm having trouble with, than it is to try to formulate the precise phrasing of the question that will lead me to the answer I need in my circumstance.

...unless the subject of your inquiry is something like Angular, where the documentation is severely lagging the info available in their own Disqus comments and SO.

I agree with the OP's point that it is mostly the easy questions which get many answers on Stack Exchange. But I don't see that as a negative. Those working in dense communities can get a lot more done because they have the option to quickly ask a knowledgeable neighbour's opinion. Assured of this support everyone gains by specializing more. The Stack Exchange sites bring the same benefits to more isolated workers.

I have a few moans about SO, but I also find it very useful. I bear no flair.

The one thing that niggles me most on the web in general, is continuous reinvention. If you must paraphrase someone else's work then do. However most of the time a simple link would suffice. The same for repeat/similar questions. And it's always good to reference your sources.

A disappointing percentage of links go dead, thereby making the answer useless. This problem increases over time.

That's certainly a good point, but it seems wasteful to copy, just in case. Surely though multiple links would decrease that chance.

What I was really getting at was wholesale monotonous rewrites. A lot of the web in my mind could be DRYed up. But perhaps redundancy isn't the issue I think it is.

I do feel I do a lot of toing and froing with searches. More than in the past, but possibly that's just because there is so much more information to filter. I'd have thought that healthy linking would help search engines.

You guys collectively here seem to have nailed it on the points v useful information issue. However, I do like his analysis of the community problems in collaborative sites like SO and Wikipedia as becoming run by an anal-twerp cabal. This is a real social information problem and deserves more thought .thank you to OP for that analysis.

The OP decries the lack of deep learning. I don't think that was ever the intent. Neither was community. The intent was crowdsourcing a body of knowledge. For this they succeeded. I've also switched to being a provider to user but that's because I don't expect community there.

His whole analogy of teaching man a fish vs giving a him a fish ignores the cases where you are not a domain expert in something, aren't looking to be, and don't need to be and you just need some quick help from people who do this stuff day in and day out. But I agree wrt to e/t else.

I think the biggest problem is not "creeping authoritarianism" or the low quality of quite some questions / answers.

The biggest problem in my opinion are voting rings getting more sophisticated and getting undetected for longer and longer period of time, with users from the rings getting more and more rep before action is taken and basically filling the site with spammy questions/answers (and even probably links to malware). This has the potential to become really nasty soon: at one point you can imagine several users from a voting ring upvoting themselves to 10K rep and starting to slowly vandalize many questions while going undetected for long period of time.

Which means SO is polluted with fake questions / answers. Google results are polluted with fake questions / answers. And high-rep users (the one with enough point to directly edit questions / answers) are wasting time fixing what looks like poor questions or commenting on these, not realizing they're fake questions/answers made by people participating in a voting ring.

Here's a recent example:


User has 364 rep as I write this and it's obviously a voting ring made of a few users. If you have a few minutes just open that account and all the questions he answered: they're all from the same two or three same users, sometimes answering twice the same question and obviously getting upvotes and accepted answers from people in his voting ring.

But that's not the issue... The issue is that this is not stopped fast enough: because the mods are too busy wasting time on less important issues concerning users who are perfectly legit.

Despite my 3.8K rep and flagging to moderator attention, nothing is done to stop these fastly.

So on one end you have creeping authoritarianism focusing on not so important issues (like say, the "closing question" police which is super-fast to act when it comes to closing or mark as duplicate legit questions), while on the other end there are real abusers, totally gaming the system, reaching enough rep to create havoc and basically doing vandalism by filling the site with fake questions (and fake answers).

The "proof" that there's a real issues is that several high-rep users spent time fixing (intentional?) typos and grammar errors in these questions, thinking they were real but, mostly, that several people are going to open the profile I just mentioned and not realize it is part of a voting ring.

Now that I post this on HN maybe that HN mods are going to act... Sadly while at the same time explaining that HN is not the place to point out SO issues, that this should be taken to meta (where I'd be downvoted or closed as duplicate etc.).

As a side note I don't understand how a new user can ask six questions, have five of them answered by a single user and all upvoted and accepted without that kind of behavior directly triggering an alarm requiring moderator attention.

So: add the ability to directly flag a user (or a question if it's simpler) as part of a voting ring, add an algo that finds probable voting ring behavior and call immediate moderator attention when such rings are discovered. Also prevent questions which are made by user which have too low of a rep from appearing in Google immediately.

And, no, I'm not taking this to meta: I don't like the "tone" there ; )

A typical day's queue of flags on Stack Overflow is around 1000. If your flag isn't tended to the minute it's raised, it's going to be because of the 900 or so others already there taking up time from having to verify the flag reason is correct in the first place.

I know but that is kinda my point...

There are countless things way less important that are raised and people's time is wasted on less important issues, like people fighting as to who in the "close police" is going to close first, say, anything looking remotely like a duplicate.

While all that energy could be used instead to detect things like voting rings where people already have hundreds of rep and are polluting both SO and Google with fake questions, fake answers, fake edits, etc.

If nothing is done and if voting rings flags get queued at position 1000 in the queue, then it's just a matter of time before voting rings reach 10 K rep and are able to create a real mess.

SO must change their rules to make those who downvote or vote to close to give their reasons, and they should give the OP enough time to amend the question or explain themselves if the question is not clear enough.

You already do have to give a reason for closing a question. That reason is displayed when a question is closed. You have plenty of time to edit your question to make it clear before it's deleted. Once you edit it, it can be reopened.

From my experience, every answer I came up already fall in two categories: 1) Already answered on SO 2) Will not get answered on SO

So.... Most of current contributors just fight for points really.

The author says he hates Java and C++. I say: "Vote with your feet." Good for him to move away from contributing to SO.

I got curious about something: What are then the OP's favorite languages since he hates Java and C++?

He seems to be into Prolog, Lisp, Haskell, et cetera. The usual languages that cause one to hate Java and C++.

I use Stack Overflow because I won't have to re-implement my solutions from scratch at the next job.

I learned a lot from answering questions, I became an expert IMO on regex just by trying to answer some of the questions. My work does not expose me to a lot of interesting stuff, but reading SO does. And yes, I like my internet points. :-)

Also, I hate the new black bar at the top. It is the reason I don't visit the site that often now. It hurts my eyes. :-(

if the Author like he says is so good at c++ why didn't he pick the harder questions and does theme ?

If the Author is an expert then answer/discuss questions on your level and most of the issues will be gone...

Richter and everyone else go back on stack overflow and answer questions. It is helpful for us all.

You may not get the recognition you deserve but believe me you don't give others the recognition they deserve either.

I have recently deleted my SO account. Hallellujah! I've gone as far as putting in -site:stackoverflow.com when I need to google something because most of the answers are just white noise.

The site appears to be overwhelmed. Server error 500

As the years roll by I appreciate more and more the fact I learned how to program back when there was just IRC and if you asked a trivial question all you got was 'RTFM'

Did he ever think that stackoverflow is about building a library of questions and answers so it is easier for people to find answers on Google?!

If you're going for points (and that's the entire raison d'être for gamification!)

That's the faulty premise. Or rather: it strikes at the weakness of gamification.

Yes, there is a very strong tendency for reward and effort to be grossly mismatched in user-ranked and filtered sites. Guess what: there's a copious amount of similar mismatch in real life. Jobs which are painfully difficult offer little reward, other times a casually tossed off effort may gain endless plaudits.

On HN, I think my top-voted comment remains a sarcastically flip jibe at PHP (a couple of submissions have out-scored it). On reddit, something of a throwaway about terminals vs. glass TTYs (at least it's technical). On the other hand, I scored my first reddit gold, which is to say, someone was sufficiently moved by what I'd written to actually pay something, for a longer and more detailed post, but one which my research of the topic made pretty easy to write.

But that's not why I participate.

My principle objective is to learn, explore, examine, have my own ideas challenged, and generally expand my capabilities and understanding. And used correctly, HN, reddit, and StackExchange all accomplish this pretty well.

The rating systems are there less for the person being rated and more for the benefit of others -- they're a first-level indication of how well trusted and respected someone is ... or how long and obsessively they've been using the service.

A recent HN post (also appearing on reddit) was "We Have to Talk About TED". I wrote my own riff on that: "We Have to Talk About 'We Have to Talk About TED'" (http://redd.it/1te3hz) (and yes, as the woman in the back says, its TEDtles all the way down ...).

The key problem:

There's a fundamental problem with democratic voting processes and voting systems (such as reddit's own post and moderation processes[2] -- which are, in their defense, better than most) in assessing who's qualified to make a judgement -- and then, of course, in determining who's qualified to assess who's qualified.

There's been a strong focus in the online world for the past decade or more over user-moderated discussion. Slashdot was arguably one of the first such sites, many others have come along, most have gone. I think a fundamental misunderstanding is that the most democratic moderation systems are the best. I don't believe this is the case. Rather, any distributed moderation system shares the load of content filtering. Which is a good thing. But distributing that load to those unable to draw meaningful distinctions between "good" and "entertaining" is not useful.

This is most crucial where you're not measuring, say, marketplace potential (where popularity is in fact by and large the metric you're looking for) as opposed to, say, technical correctness. In which tests of suitability are more significant.

And that's the point of StackExchange: it's not a platform with the goal of scoring people the most points, it's a platform on which if you go there with a question, you'll find a good, and hopefully the best, applicable answer. And to that end, I've actually found the site extremely useful.

So: HN, StackExchange, reddit, Facebook, Google+, and other similar sites tend to fall down a bit of a rathole. Clay Shirky's noted that the problem isn't information overload, it's filter failure, but there are also two modes of filter failure: one is filters which are overwhelmed in the classification task and can't keep up. But another is filters which select the wrong stuff.

Which isn't a particularly easy problem to solve. StackExchange actually takes a decent cut at it (as do other services such as Yahoo Answers, though with varying degrees of success) by having the submitter select the best answer. Within the ranking system, this might carry some benefits, and in particular, submitting a lot of wrong, or simply unselected answers, might carry a penalty. Another way to switch up the voting system would be to assign more points for answers to harder, less-answered, or unanswered questions. Or to provide a means of judging between solutions: what's faster, simpler, more comprehensive, more robust, etc.

Which gets down to determining what quality and fitness are. In which case I'd recommend taking another look at Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Though you need not agree entirely with what he has to say.

Nothing is perfect, Stack Overflow is a great resource online. Of course it has a few quirks and problems, but why try to bring it down by publicly quitting it and seemingly trying to bring others with you. Quietly leave. Making a noise like this leads me to believe the problem is more with you than SO.

Arguments could be made against contributing to... Helping the homeless, Open source, Hacker News discussions, ? ETC

Everytime I google a question and get a stack overflow result, it is always an unanswered and locked question for silly neckbeard pedantic reasons.

Stop Googling for "what's your favorite programmer t-shirt" and that won't happen as often.

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