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August 20, 2009 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Programmers may already know about the blogs of Jeff Atwood (Coding Horror) and Joel Spolsky (Joel on Software), or their increasingly-popular collaborative Q&A site Stack Overflow. Additional sites have been introduced recently for other audiences: Server Fault for system administrators and IT professionals, Doctype for web designers, and the just-out-of-beta Super User for "computer enthusiasts" (previously and inspired by).

It would appear that the business model is to sell the engine behind all these sites: the Stack Exchange "knowledge exchange platform" is soon to be released.
posted by Mr. Palomar (40 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not to mention they interviewed Cortex on their podcast.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:33 PM on August 20, 2009


Stack Overflow is awesome. There are several Mefites there, as well (hi, ortho!).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:35 PM on August 20, 2009


I meant to note that for all the sites except Doctype, you can use OpenID instead of having to create separate accounts, but apparently they're working on it.
posted by Mr. Palomar at 5:37 PM on August 20, 2009


Meh. I could write that in a weekend.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 5:43 PM on August 20, 2009 [17 favorites]


Wait, so is Doctype related to the others? It looks similar, and friendly to them, but like it's running different software and possibly run by someone else? But then it does link to them, and there's a question about it on meta.stackoverflow.
posted by moss at 5:46 PM on August 20, 2009


Why did they have to split? Software engineers and sysadmins aren't non-intersecting sets, you know. The great thing about SO is that so many people were contributing.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:47 PM on August 20, 2009


I've really enjoyed participating in Stack Overflow. There's a lot of good knowledge there and it's fun to answer games. The reputation score thing is a mixed blessing. It tends to lead to people answering questions very very quickly, so they get voted up first. Which is great for producing quick answers and possibly bad for producing good answers.

I hate to say this to the MeFi empire, but I don't think I'd use Ask Metafilter for questions I could ask on the Stack sites. Ask has never been very good for programming or sysadmin questions, so no great loss, but I think Super User might eat into AskMe business.
posted by Nelson at 5:48 PM on August 20, 2009


Meh. I could write that in a weekend.

That lamebrained response has been well addressed.

So what's the utility of spinning off all these different sites? Seems like a terrible idea when you consider how badly it must fragment the user-base – sufficient quantities of whose freely donated answers are the only thing making these sites work.
posted by RogerB at 5:55 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was going to do a post on PasteBin and the newly-launched CodePad but then I got busy.
posted by DU at 5:56 PM on August 20, 2009


The crazy thing is the dude with 89,000 reputation points. To put it in MeFi terms: You get 25 points for a best answer and 10 points for a favorite. That's a lot of answering to get that many points.
posted by smackfu at 6:06 PM on August 20, 2009


I hate to say this to the MeFi empire, but I don't think I'd use Ask Metafilter for questions I could ask on the Stack sites.

Eh, that's reasonable. People have certainly gotten solid answers sometimes to niche tech questions on AskMe, but it's strength is its generality and there are things that sites with a very tight focus like SO can do better to serve their specific niches than a generalist site is likely to be able to do.

I've been seeing SO threads show up in google results when I go looking up programming stuff lately, which is kind of nice to see—if that's a sign that it is, indeed, making inroads against shit like Experts Exchange, hallelujah.

I certainly won't begrudge Jeff and Joel a potential downtick in certain subclasses of questions if they're doing a just plain good job of serving that Q&A need and raising the bar on tech Q&A search quality in the process.

So what's the utility of spinning off all these different sites? Seems like a terrible idea when you consider how badly it must fragment the user-base – sufficient quantities of whose freely donated answers are the only thing making these sites work.

I'm pretty curious about how this is going to be managed in the long run myself, and I've been meaning to get over to meta.so to see how the topic is going, actually. My gut says that finding a way to tightly integrate the userbase of all the SO-internal family of sites into a single structure is probably the best sane way to proceed, but at this point they'll have to get there in retrospect because it wasn't an in-built part of the site, if they do indeed go that way. Syncing a bunch of independent and overlapping accounts seems like a nightmare, and one that will scale badly over time as each userbase grows.

That said, I doubt their problem will be a dearth of answers, considering how hopping things seem to be so far. Dedicated users with real interest in multiple sites in the family will jump through the hoops to use the fragmented sites (and probably apply steady social pressure for defragmentation); dedicated users with only one real strong interest will favor the site that they favor and not worry about the rest so much.
posted by cortex at 6:09 PM on August 20, 2009


I've been seeing SO threads show up in google results when I go looking up programming stuff lately

I'm surprised I don't see them more often actually, considering that was a stated project goal at launch, which was a year ago. They have the popularity, but I wonder if people aren't linking to answers on SO, so they don't count for much and don't get much pagerank.
posted by smackfu at 6:27 PM on August 20, 2009


Ask has never been very good for programming or sysadmin questions

The hell it isn't.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:27 PM on August 20, 2009


Look, when I'm wearing my sysadmin hat, I don't want to read your grasping, uninformed inanity about W3C compliance. When I'm wearing my web developer hat, I'm not interested about your lamentable ignorance regarding, say, sendmail or mmc snap-ins. Why is that hard to understand?
posted by boo_radley at 6:33 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meh. I could write that in a weekend.

Well, I'm sure you could get the basic functionality, but there is really a lot of attention to detail on the site, for example the user accounts, etc.

The real money though is in advertizing. Stack Overflow answers are very highly rated in google search results, and before SO googling for technical questions would often lead you to seriously spammy sites that seemed to do nothing but aggregate usenet posts.
posted by delmoi at 6:48 PM on August 20, 2009


Eh, that's reasonable. People have certainly gotten solid answers sometimes to niche tech questions on AskMe, but it's strength is its generality and there are things that sites with a very tight focus like SO can do better to serve their specific niches than a generalist site is likely to be able to do.

I've got no doubt that Ask could answer my technical questions, but on SO you don't have to worry if you'll need to ask another question in the next 1/2 weeks. I mean, I havn't asked a question on AskMe in... 10 months but I always have a few that I'm interested in asking but never get around too in case I need to ask a question later.
posted by delmoi at 6:51 PM on August 20, 2009


So what's the utility of spinning off all these different sites? Seems like a terrible idea when you consider how badly it must fragment the user-base – sufficient quantities of whose freely donated answers are the only thing making these sites work.

It all works on OpenID (except for one of the sites, apparently) so if you have flicker/yahoo/myspace/whatever you don't even need a new ID.
posted by delmoi at 6:52 PM on August 20, 2009


So what's the utility of spinning off all these different sites?

Actually, I think the specialization of these websites is part of what makes them useful. Someone who is great at answering questions about hardware issues may not be the person to ask about coding issues, etc etc, so if they want to contribute why should they have to read through every question?

There is definitely a use for general q&a style websites (I contribute to one of them :p), but that doesn't mean that these more specialized sites aren't worthwhile as well.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 7:19 PM on August 20, 2009


Stackoverflow is pretty great. One of my questions is still going gangbusters and getting a lot of good answers.

But to be fair there are a LOT of folks on SO who are just gaming the system. They're googling the questions and posting the first answer they find. I'm not sure *why* anyone would game the system. But there it is.

When SO first came out I thought this would be a major problem - but really I think SO is too organic for folks gaming to really cause too much of a negative impact.
posted by schwa at 7:28 PM on August 20, 2009


I was going to do a post on PasteBin and the newly-launched CodePad but then I got busy.

pastie

Nothing to do with pasties though.
posted by schwa at 7:36 PM on August 20, 2009


It all works on OpenID (except for one of the sites, apparently) so if you have flicker/yahoo/myspace/whatever you don't even need a new ID.

Yeah, which is why I have a livejournal account now, weirdly enough.

They've been struggling with a Google-specific issues where Google provides like different striated OpenID credentials to each separate site it's used as a provider/authenticator for, which is tricky because all of a sudden you aren't the same person at each site as far as that scheme knows. Which wouldn't be as much of a problem if this wasn't Google we're talking about. Another thing I keep meaning to go back and check in on.

But to be fair there are a LOT of folks on SO who are just gaming the system. They're googling the questions and posting the first answer they find. I'm not sure *why* anyone would game the system. But there it is.

One of the dangers that comes with building explicitly game-like elements into your system. I don't think it seems like it's overwhelming the sites by any means, but it is a source of noise, and it's an in-built source.

You look at the debate about favorites on metafilter, that's nothing compared to sticky wicket that is the reputation/tiered-abilities/achievement-badges setup on SO.
posted by cortex at 7:52 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the post. I was wondering if there was something like Doctype around. Seems a bit buggy, but I'll give it a shot.
posted by brundlefly at 8:05 PM on August 20, 2009


Pastie, pasties, Pasties...
posted by DesbaratsDays at 8:07 PM on August 20, 2009


I wish there were ways to blacklist (or demote to the bottom of the page) entire websites in google searches. SO is very useful, and a other sites like Experts Exchange and all those usenet harvesters are useless most of the time when I'm looking for answers (which tend to fall into three categories: things aren't displaying right in IE, whyTF am I getting this oracle error, and this PHP isn't working).

Also SO has been pimped heavily by Microsoft since I think they were the first successful site using their incubation process (free software for 3 yrs I think).
posted by SirOmega at 8:18 PM on August 20, 2009


Wild. I've never heard of SO before. Seems like an excellent resource.
posted by xmutex at 8:22 PM on August 20, 2009


Meh. I could write that in a weekend.

Nah, it'd take like six to eight weeks.
posted by moss at 8:39 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


And this reminded me that I have an experts exchange account from when I worked at an incredibly big mainframe firm. It still works, and seems to be grandfathered in in terms of fees and points. So, hooray, I guess.
posted by boo_radley at 8:45 PM on August 20, 2009


I think the reason to split the sites was more for their recruiter clients, so that karma for answering one kind of question isn't generalized to "good with computers".

Also, given that I'm on the top 30 of ServerFault, I wouldn't mind a MeFi profile widget for SF like there is for SO.
posted by pwnguin at 8:50 PM on August 20, 2009


Yeah, which is why I have a livejournal account now, weirdly enough.

I actually setup my own OpenID identity hosted my own domain name. I didn't want my identity on many different sites in the hands of anyone else, whether they change policy or simply go out of business.

I got tripped up by the fact that OpenID URLs need to be entirely lower case, though. It just did. not. work. and I had no idea why until I changed the URL to all lowercase.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on August 20, 2009


I actually setup my own OpenID identity hosted my own domain name.

This is pretty much the only reasonably secure way to configure OpenID; buy a domain, operate a website and add the right HTML for a delegation (more secure: run your own verification tool on your domain). It's no wonder VeriSign loves it.
posted by pwnguin at 9:38 PM on August 20, 2009


Y'all know 0xdeadc0de was joking right?

I've mixed feelings about the SO family. On the one hand, I've found it moderately useful. However - For the sysadmin stuff, Expert SexChange is still more useful (sorry Jeff). The googled answers from that site still seem a lot more relevant to me.

I've also got a bit of a problem with the moderation. The sites do seem a bit heavy handed in terms of what is & is not allowed. If you're not in the upper programmer echelons (which I'm not), it's frustratingly difficult to contribute.

Which is a shame. I'm not the most up to date programmer in the world, and I'm not 100% up on c# and lexical closures and functional programming, but I've got stuff to tell people. It's increasingly difficult to be able to answer anything. If a question is soft, or it's slightly badly phrased it's now more likely to be closed down.
posted by seanyboy at 12:21 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


For the record, DocType is not part of the Spolsky/Atwood set of sites.

Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood are pretty clear that they have a trilogy of sites (StackOverflow, ServerFault, SuperUser) and an additional MetaStackoverflow.

DocType is written by some people from Litmus, which is why it looks different and doesnt used OpenID. They seem to be on friendly terms though.
posted by memebake at 12:24 AM on August 21, 2009


WTF?
posted by zog at 3:29 AM on August 21, 2009


Funny timing - I just posted my first question on StackOverflow this morning. I had no idea about the other 'versions' of the site though - I shall be passing the URLs on to some of my colleagues, very useful, thanks!
posted by jzed at 3:40 AM on August 21, 2009


But to be fair there are a LOT of folks on SO who are just gaming the system.

Not to mention the wikipedians who are taking over and editing the hell out of everything. When I post a ruby on rails question I post it with all the variants of Ruby on Rails that are in popular use - RoR, rails, ruby-on-rails so that my question is highly findable. Then some editor twat comes along and narrows it down to just the one he thinks is appropriate.

Sure there is a slight indexing hit of having the multiple tags but bits are pretty damn close to free and having the variants there makes searching more likely to be successful than going with some editors self-created classification system (though they do I have a nice autosuggest for search).

Stack Overflow disappeared from my rss feed because those editors chose a different tag from the one I was following and I only got to see the one or two questions a week that slipped in under their radar. I haven't fixed it because frankly it was a relief but I doubt that is what the site admins has in mind. I was good for a few decent answers a week and at least 50 or more pageviews. Now I only go there when I have a problem...
posted by srboisvert at 5:31 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really, anything is better than Expert Sexchange.

What, that's not the site name? It's right there in their domain.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:59 AM on August 21, 2009


The crazy thing is the dude with 89,000 reputation points. To put it in MeFi terms: You get 25 points for a best answer and 10 points for a favorite. That's a lot of answering to get that many points.

Yes.

I got about 4500 points in my first month, but since then have coasted along, gaining only about 1500 in the subsequent three months.
posted by orthogonality at 6:49 AM on August 21, 2009


Great discussion here in MeFi!

I think the split of SO into three sites evolved out of the questions they were seeing when it was just one site. It's not some clever plan to milk more ads. My hope is the communities evolve separately. The lines are not always so clear; I've already had one detailed answer I wrote about bash scripting disappear from Stack Overflow because someone decided it belonged in Server Fault instead. They do a decent job of stitching the sites together. You create a separate account on all four sites (meta too), which if you're using OpenID authentication is no big thing. But then you can link them together. You even get a reputation bonus for linking them.

I think pwnguin is exactly right that part of the site split is motivated for recruitment purposes. The Stack Overflow database is recruitment gold: users annotated with a score for their knowledge and tags about their specific areas of expertise. Oh yeah, and they've even flagged themselves as "ok to contact for a job". It's brilliant, and good for everyone.

Civil Disobedient, I didn't mean to say AskMe is never good at programming questions. I've asked and answered a few of my own here. But it's a pretty high level community, and I'd never try to answer the fiddly detailed questions that we do on Stack Overflow. I like what Cortex says about AskMe being good for generalist stuff.

BTW, one thing that bugs me in Stack Overflow are the questions that are chatfilter. "What are your top tips?" Stack Overflow seems at its best when the answer to a question is a bit of runnable code.
posted by Nelson at 8:40 AM on August 21, 2009


BTW, one thing that bugs me in Stack Overflow are the questions that are chatfilter. "What are your top tips?" Stack Overflow seems at its best when the answer to a question is a bit of runnable code.

Yeah, and it was interesting watching SO when it went public, seeing the spectrum of questions from the specific-and-canonically-answerable (which I am under the impression was Jeff & Joel's platonic ideal of an SO question in the first place, personal tastes aside, and I agree with you in preferring them, Nelson) to the chatty/roundup bait. And everybody loves the chat, because it's hard to feel like you've been beaten to the answer. And so the threads are a hundred comments long instead of six.

Again, there, with some of the interesting weirdness of the gamelike elements of the site design: participating in those sorts of threads is not only entertaining in its own right for the folks who enjoy getting their chat on, it's also potentially lucrative for the participants—especially the person asking. When you reward your users for asking the wrong sort of question, the concept of incentive-based community self-maintenance gets a little shaky, and how that dynamic plays out on SO as time goes on is something I'm really interested in.

It took askme a couple years to really find its feet in terms of solid and stable guidelines for what was okay, what wasn't, how often, etc. It took mefi itself a couple years to really do the same, too. Even now such stuff remains a periodic subject of debate, which I think is unavoidable; so while on the one hand it's easy for me to glance at my watch if I'm feeling ungenerous and be like "guys, it's been a year", that's kind of a prickish approach when I know this stuff takes time to gel and to change and to settle down.
posted by cortex at 8:56 AM on August 21, 2009


pastie, pastebin, codepad.... so many things to wire into the copypasta detector in my CI build. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
posted by butterstick at 10:30 AM on August 21, 2009


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