What makes StackOverflow different…

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.

3. Voting

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.

Helping out on the Wrox forums

Wrox ProfileSince I started working as the technical editor for the XSLT 2.0 and XPath 2.0 reference book I thought I’d try my hand at helping out on the Wrox Programmer to Programmer (P2P for short) forums.

When I first started out I was a ‘Starting Member’ but soon progressed to ‘New Member’.

Not long after that I noticed I’d gone up in status to ‘Junior Member’, which I actually found to be slightly condescending! I’m 33, I’m hardly a junior anything anymore.

Now however I’ve just passed the 200 post mark and I’m now a plain ‘Member’, although I do get 3 funky red stars to my name.

My Wrox Forums profile

I help out mostly on the XSLT forum, but I’ve been straying onto the C# and C# 2005 forums of late too. I find the post volume is about right for me to not get overloaded – compared to the Microsoft Forums where I can barely keep up. Luckily the Microsoft forums has a helpful ‘answered’ feature, so you can easily see which posts still need help.

However for some reason sometimes when I click on the ‘Reply’ button it logs me out – very annoying.

Overall though I find helping out others useful as makes me think about the way I work, plus I try to write my proposed solutions in a way that they should hopefully learn a little without just writing out the answer for them. Its the way I would want to be answered.

Still, the most annoying thing is those questions where the answer is on the first page of the results I find when I search google. Is it just laziness do you think? My typical response to these is now just “Google is your friend”.