A new programming site, Stack Overflow, officially launched (public beta) today. Started by Jeff Atwood and Joel Spoksky, the intent is to provide a forum for getting answers to your programming questions.
From the About:
Stack Overflow is by programmers, for programmers, with the ultimate intent of collectively increasing the sum total of programming knowledge in the world. No matter what programming language you use, or what operating system you call home — better programming is our goal.
Stack Overflow is that tiny asterisk in the middle, there.
There’s also a FAQ and a blog.
I’ve been taking part in the SO private beta testing for about a month. I’ve asked one question related to an issue I was working on and tried to answer a few questions. My reputation is probably a good reflection of my minimal activity level. From that experience though, I can tell you that it takes a significant amount of effort to get your reputation even into the hundreds.
I’m a long time Code Project user so my initial impression of SO is greatly influenced by my on-going CP experience. Because of that, and for better or worse, comparisons are unavoidable.
Sites like SO provide two basic services:
- Getting answers to technical questions.
- Providing a gathering place for like-minded individuals.
Currently there’s no comparison. SO is in it’s infancy. I have yet to get a hit on a search term in SO that returns pages in CP. This is no surprise, as it will take a long time for SO to build a critical mass of technical content.
One concern about the SO question/answer-only format versus CP is that CP has both forums and an extensive article base. For me anyway, the most useful CP search hits usually come from the code posted in the articles.
Forums might have relevant links, but are less likely to have code snippets that will end up with useful search results. I think SO needs to figure out a way to encourage the posting or downloading of searchable code. There’s no substitute for the blood and guts of programming: code!
IMHO, the missing set in the venn diagram is an article submission component.
There are hundreds of programming forums, link sites, and blogs. What’s unique about the contributions of these groups of individuals is their self-forming community — they are the very definition of a social network.
A recent NYT op-ed article by David Brooks called The Social Animal discusses Republican Party doctrine development and how it:
… underestimates the importance of connections, relationships, institutions and social filaments that organize personal choices and make individuals what they are.
It struck me that these basic psychological and sociological tenants are exactly the same motivators that create and maintain on-line social networks. SO is no different. Social status (reputation) is an important motivator, and how SO manages these interactions is a much discussed topic (e.g. see Fastest Gun in the West Problem).
CP has somehow been able to keep a loyal group of contributors over the years — Article Competitions, Surveys, The Lounge, Hall Of Shame — I’m not sure what keeps them coming back, but they do.
SO must continue to build and nurture that sense of community in order to ensure long term involvement of contributors and to attract new members.
Off and Running
SO is off to a fast start because of the popularity that Jeff and Joel have brought to the launch. The site is visually clean, efficient, and easy to use. It appears that (early on anyway) a majority of the questions are Microsoft technology related. A broader range of topics are sure to appear now that the site is opened to the public.
I’m looking forward to watching Stack Overflow evolve, and come up in my search results.
Here’s a sampling of other launch posts (all open in another window/tab):
Stack Overflow: Not Convinced
Stack Overflow Launches
Stack Overflow: Solutions for Coders
Bad First Impression
StackOverflow – CrackOverflow or StackOverblown?