Monday, 27 October 2008

StackOverflow – Followup Since Release to Public Beta

StackOverflow has been in private beta for a while now, and the community has exploded. I thought I would take a bit of time out to review some of my thoughts following it’s release to the public.

These points are not really in any order or organisation, so forgive me if it’s a bit of a poor read, I have literally been jotting down ideas for this post as and when they popped in to my head. My apologies if it’s all too random :)

Some Big Names Enter the Affray

So we have had a couple of big names get in to StackOverflow including:

(If anyone else has noticed some other big names, let me know and I will get this list updated)

This is not only nice to see (because they are good guys) but the technical expertise they will bring to the community will be immense.

There is a good side point here as well, we all know Scott is a great geek. He’s really switched on and his blog has some great content that has taught and inspired me a lot.

After Scott posted his first question on StackOverflow, he posted the following tweet:

I asked my first LazyWeb, er, StackOverflow question. Now, I wait. http://bit.ly/1sZcmq

It was a good question, and funnily enough, because it was a good question (i.e. one that requires either solid knowledge or good digging skills), there was no “Bob Munden” – the “fastest gun in the West”.

Scott later posted the answer which he had found himself, within 10 minutes of asking. Nicely done Scott. I thought was a great demo of how the easy questions get flooded by mediocrity and good questions seem to just sit there because people don’t really want to think. Some of my toughest questions have remained unanswered, it seems people don’t want to “work” for their rep.

Subjective Posts

This has been a real bug-bearer of mine since private beta. Several users got in to the habit of tagging subjective questions with the “subjective” tag. Yes, I was doing this too at one point since I thought it was a “standard”. It dawned on me one day that it was ridiculous. When was the last time you answered a question without being subjective? To be clear, lets review what “subjective” actually means:

  • Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world: a subjective decision.
  • Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.

Humans can only answer questions based on their experience and knowledge, so ipso facto, everything on StackOverflow is subjective.

I started to revolt against it and posted a nice message to any would-be taggers on a question of mine. Following this I think I have slowly been winning the war against the “subjective” tag. As a side note Mendelt has also raised some great points in his question about the “allowed questions policy” being too restrictive, check it out.

Mod Wars!

This has been great fun, recently some of us mod’s got into a nice little flame war on a question of “X better than Y” style questions. Check out the comments on the question. I personally think we need to be more open and educate people on how to discuss on StackOverflow rather than just close everything off. What are your thoughts on this?

Poll-Like Questions

It thought I would try something new with the StackOverflow system. I was thinking sometimes we just want a “yes” or “no”, so could we use the system like a poll?

I posted the following question, basically asking if the community at large thought it was a good idea to have a “pet project”. While TBH I was expecting a resounding “yes”, it was nice to see how the community responded. There was a little bit of resistance to begin with, but it has turned out that its actually quite useful for getting clear, succinct answers.

UserVoice? SHOUT LOUDER!

This is an interesting one. One of the most hated things about StackOverflow is the way to request features/notify of bugs. It uses a service called UserVoice, which to be fair, I think it really being used for something it wasn’t really designed for.

Take a look at this request, where it is raised that is difficult for people answering/modding that a question has been closed, because nothing changes about its appearance in the question list. Now, Jeff’s response really hacked me off (as you can see in the comments) since he didn’t grok the point being made, and rather than ask for clarification, he just smashed it down with  “DECLINED”. What’s really funny is that Jeff has backtracked and actually implemented a solution now. Nice!

Mendelt also made another good point on UserVoice in that he has stopped using it simply because so many of Jeff’s reactions on UserVoice are similar to the above (here’s the tweet). So in essence, is it REALLY worth going there? Many of the accepted ideas are ones Jeff already had, and a lot of the new ones, DENIED!

So, what are your thoughts on the above? Does it spark any thoughts in your mind that you may want to see here as well?

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