I was asked the question recently, what makes StackOverflow different from other developer forums. (Thanks http://twitter.com/redgum)
I’ve only been using it for a few days now, and its still in private beta, although it is claimed to be (mostly) feature complete.
There are a few obvious things that mark it as different from your usual developer forum.
1. No forums
It doesn’t have the concept of forums, instead uses tags to provide order to the chaos. This is good, in that everything gets at least some attention when it is posted, as well as the eventual problem of things being posted to the incorrect forum never appearing.
2. No login
Eventually you will be able to ask questions and answer them without logging in. This does sound very strange, and as the web site is still in private beta it really isn’t being tested much yet, but it certainly could make life interesting.
Questions, as well as answers can be voted up and down – you require a log in and the required reputation to do either of these things. Reputation is gained from answering questions, having questions and answers voted up, and by having answers marked as ‘correct’ by the question asker. The exact formula isn’t really known.
4. Badges and Reputation
As you answer questions and generally interact you gain reputation, and various ‘badges’. This is in common with many game web sites (such as Kongregate) where completing certain objectives gives you a particular badge. Badges are given for things like ‘First Answer marked as Correct’.
So far this is producing a very fluid and engaging experience, but I don’t think it will truly get tested till it is open to a) Spam and b) Crap questions. Hopefully the reputation/voting system will encourage the better questions, while discouraging the worst.
Will StackOverflow end up any different from all the other developer forums? They have certainly set out on the right path. Whether this path enables them to end up better than the rest is something I think is still to be seen.