Stackoverflow Is A Difficult Community to Participate In

These are a few of the reasons why I have difficulty in participating in the StackOverflow community. I was once a very active user, but due to these reasons, and a few unstated, I am unable to participate in the community anymore. 
  1. The Eternal September Issue. Many new users of StackOverflow [SO] rarely ever follow the guidelines of the community. I’m not sure how to solve this, but it is annoying to see questions posted as a plea for help. Stackoverflow moderates its self as a very terse question and answer site. It’s not a discussion forum. [This is a crutch and a gift] Another issue with this is that duplicates show up despite the crotchety moderators complaining about it. One example of this is questions asking about where to find free stock quote data.
  2. Questions that deal with software development that are not inherently technical are frequently down voted/closed. One example of this is that a question asking about a specific data set [for training/development purposes] was closed for the reason that it “didn’t fit with the community.” Until there is a dataset related StackExchange site that the question can be moved to, that was a perfectly acceptable development related question. By a “StackExchange site that the question can be moved to” I mean a fully functioning site, one not currently being “developed”/on Area51. Closing the question as “not relevant” does not help the author, nor does it help people that are looking for a similar dataset.
  3. Down voting as a means of closing a question. To vote-to-close a question a user must have 250 reputation points. This does not take very long to get, if you participate in the community. Down voting should be a way of saying, this is either wrong information, misleading, or not helpful. If the user believes that the question should be closed, but does not have the reputation needed to close, then make a comment and give evidence on why you believe that this should be the case.
  4. The down voting of correct, but not exact-answers. This gets to be an issue when there are questions that can have multiple answers. For an example: A question about optimization of a Java application, the common answer will be to use a more efficient algorithm. That answer will probably be the most voted answer. However, another valid answer is that the process could be rewritten in a more low-level language and connected to via a pipe [Socket, inproc, JNI, etc] to the main application. The latter is better suited for rather unique situations, but it is still a valid and workable answer. From my experience, the second answer will be downvoted, despite that it gave correct information. I have had a discussion with a moderator about this [Shog9] and, according to him, that strategy is a perfectly acceptable strategy to down-vote a creditable answer.
  5. Timing/Duplicate answers. Since I have stopped participating in the community, I have not seen this as often. However, when there is a question posted there is frequently a rush of answers to be posted there. After some time, someone will post a duplicate answer, and get it to be voted on more than the original answer. This is harder to find, but it does happen and it’s very frustrating.
  6. Misattributing credit on answers: If there are other answers that assist you in answering the question, please cite those other authors. It is polite and it gives their question credibility. [Also those that you cite, you should vote for their answer as well].
  7. This is another one of the odd cases on StackOverflow. A few of the “Exact Duplicate” questions are not duplicates due to minor, but important, differences. I cannot come up with an example now, but commenters, frequently, are quick to claim that it is an exact duplicate without verifying the claim. Sometimes the accusation isn’t backed up by evidence. Links to the other questions are sufficient evidence.
  8. The value of reputation: After the global recalculation, the site’s creators made a bold statement that participation is not valued on the site. The recalculation devalued questions, and the new policy was applied retroactively. This caused a loss of reputation. The creators of the site made a claim that “reputation was useless,” which falls contrary to their claim that reputation is a “value of how much the community trusts you.” Operating on the prior claim would make a statement that a user with 500 reputation points is as valued as Jon Skeet. [A well known user in the community, and an author of many technical books]

EDIT: Correction: Vote to close requires 3k in reputation, the ability to downvote requires a reputation of 125 or better. I still stand by my statement that downvoting

 

  • http://twitter.com/67726e Glenn Nelson

    Pretty spot on. I used to be active on StackOverflow and Programmers but eventually things seemed to degrade. Personally I think the moderators are more so a hindrance in most cases. Yes you need someone who can immediately take down spam/harassment/etc. but that power is used more broadly then it ought to be for a community that is supposed to be run by the users.

    • crash025

      I didn’t mention about this. But even Programmers is frustrating. The site claims that its to have a strict no discussion policy, but then discussions break out in the comments. Its really frustrating, when they say “if you want to go for discussion go for the chatroom” but the chatroom isn’t a good option for that.

      • http://www.fromdev.com/ Java Developer

        So true, the comments are inevitable. and people asking questions may have done some mistake or miss out something. Keeping a difference in question answer and discussion is not easy if questions happens to be complex.

    • http://antipaucity.com Warren

      I participate in some of the other communities – but not many (my many profiles to the contrary).

      I certainly don’t care much about SO anymore … and it’s sad – it had such great promise, and was so good when it started.

    • timrpeterson

      @twitter-155338841:disqus i completely agree on the overstepping by moderators. Also, these moderators inconsistently apply SO best-practices.  Just like “normal” people, i find moderators are more subjective in their answering and commenting if their friends/peers also become involved.

      @st:twitter Another problem is that esoteric Q&A tend to get voted on more (typically upvoted)  than it should. Whereas practical knowledge especially if the Q&A happened recently tends to not to accumulate too much voting. Voting b/c the answer looks impressive and not voting when it looks mundane would also seem to degrade the overall utility of SE.

    • http://twitter.com/ttdevelop Tim

      i found it most annoying when the community is paranoid with specific formats. If my question is too conceptual, say, no codes or data, they would reply, what did you try, what did you do to justify that you are not just using us? Then if i list a whole bunch of data sets and codes, the community replies, so what is your question? What do you want us to do? You never told us clearly what you want….In that case, I spent about 40 minutes to write up the question, it wasn’t some random stuff I put up just to rip them off. 
      I understand the whole idea of asking good questions, but I haven’t seen an online community so caught up on these little things and seems eager to rage rather than to communicate and work things out.

  • Tribar

    > To vote-to-close a question a user must have 250 reputation points. 
     Actually, it takes 3000 rep to close a question. 250 rep lets you vote to close and reopen your own questions as well as view close votes [1], but to vote to close and reopen others’ questions, you need 3000 rep [2].

    [1]: http://stackoverflow.com/privileges/view-close-votes
    [2]: http://stackoverflow.com/privileges/close-questions

  • http://antipaucity.com Warren

    I think this could apply [almost] equally to any other long-established community wherein new members aren’t shown around and taught the ropes well

    • anjan bacchu

      But the moderators are not being helpful when they close non-duplicate posts. They’re way too aggressive to non-beginners. there should be a way to easily complain about a post being closed by these moderators.

      • Shog Nine

        You have numerous options to object to an invalid closure:

        - Post on Meta Stack Overflow
        - Email to the team (contact information is in the FAQ and the footer of every page)
        - If you have a reputation of 15 or greater, flag for moderator attention
        - If you have a reputation of 50 or greater, leave a constructive comment detailing why the closure is invalid- If you have a reputation of 3000 or greater, vote to re-open

        And of course, if there are minor problems with a question that you can correct, you can edit it before doing anything else – sometimes, just a bit of cleanup is all it takes.

        • http://antipaucity.com Warren

          @google-ae15c48f686a0ecb39848f980b296611:disqus - those options to object are great: if you know they’re there, how to use them, etc. Most new users to the site don’t know them, can use them, etc :(

  • http://6a68.net/ Jared Hirsch

    Ugh, right on. Stackoverflow is like one of those companies with a zillion middle managers roving around and nit-picking everything.

    • Ditchmonkey

      LOL so true…..

  • anjan bacchu

    I participated a lot in the 1st 3 years. The last 1 year or so, it’s been frustrating that they willy nilly close questions saying it is not a good question for StackOverflow. I now think multiple times before I post a question because these so called moderators are being too aggressive.

  • Eric Hydrick

    Duplicate questions are a recurring problem that they’ve been trying to tackle (it came up a lot on the StackExchange podcast). Short of something posting duplicate links and making you click through them to verify you’re not asking a duplicaate (and how do you verify someone read the questions rather than just open a bunch of tabs?), it’s a pretty tough problem.

    Duplicate answers, to me, are the bigger issue. A lot of questions are clogged with multiple versions of the same answer, it leads to people with good answers not getting credit for it, and creates noise hiding other possible solutions.

    Getting terse and closing a lot of questions is another issue. I’m not sure what they can do about that, other than make moderators more of a review force for stuff that’s been flagged by community members repeatedly?

    As for reputation, StackExchange’s big issue stems from trying to condense several metrics into 1 value (Warrent touched on this with his post on gamification – http://antipaucity.com/2012/05/11/the-pros-and-cons-of-gamification/). The more I hear about “scores” and “metrics”, the more convinced I become that tying your assessment of something to just 1 value is a Bad Idea ™.

    • http://antipaucity.com Warren

      Another issue is that the community is so large: a focusing of moderation tasks by tag / concept / etc might be a start of a solution .. but the better one would be to make the community smaller than it currently is (a la Area51 .. but so many proposals have already been closed as duplicates of SO/SF/etc (including many by myself) … that I am not sure how to better approach the problem currently).

      Maybe in a few years someone will come along with the SO killer the way SO was the EE killer

  • http://twitter.com/stevenelliottjr Steven Elliott

    Agreed, I got really into it but most people on there are id10t’s and especially the moderators. They are just itching to close discussions; I am working on a kinder, gentler, stackoverflow-type Q and A site. 

    • http://twitter.com/Telanis_ Telanis

      SO is specifically not for discussions. If you want milk, buy a cow and not a horse. Don’t blame the horse for not being good at making milk.

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  • http://twitter.com/vinitcool76 vinit kumar

    I think mailing lists are much better and classic options. They are often more helpful

    • http://mbrownnyc.wordpress.com/ Matt

      Agreed.  http://markmail.org http://gmane.org/ http://www.gossamer-threads.com   Another great and some times over looked resource is IRC channel archives.

  • http://mbrownnyc.wordpress.com/ Matt

    I agree and disagree with everything you said.  I feel about stackexchange the way I feel about the rest of the internet.  It’s a resource, and it happens to be a community driven resource where the highest impact people seem to have the same type of personalities of wikipedia editors and IRC trolls.  But, simply… who really gives a shit.  It seems that you’re disillusioned by the reward system, but I do not believe that people should depend on this type of empty, meaningless reward system since it doesn’t benefit them in any meaningful and/or tangible way.

    I use stackexchange sites like I use any other community resource.  I use it to outsource my research work.  Period.  I very rarely use community based resources when I can not possibly think of any other technical action to take to solve a problem.

    I also happen to enjoy helping others, so I spend time giving back by documenting procedures and making them freely available on my blog and/or in other publicly accessible locations (such as a project’s wiki).

    As you should when dealing with people that don’t really matter to you, adjust your usage of stackexchange sites a very simple give and take experience, and expect nothing more than saving some time for yourself to solve other problems you face.

  • http://twitter.com/Telanis_ Telanis

    Most of your comments seem to be about the natural tendencies if people. If SO were able to perfectly mitigate all selfish and other imperfect behavior it would be great, but that’s just not possible. You won’t find other sites that avoid these problems either. IMO Stack Exchange does the best, but I truly think your issues come from people who suck. Anonymity makes them prevalent everywhere on the Internet.

    • http://antipaucity.com Warren

      I concur that it’s anonymity that makes things worse – what thoughts might you have on how to improve, @Telanis:disqus ?

      • xReWxpilau

        Haha! Awesome!

  • todaisies

    I too said goodbye to stackoverflow. if the questions are allowed only
    from experts then i dont think its for me. If i ask a stupid question
    about HTML it may be because my expertise is in something else and i
    just want to fix something in HTML to get going. So If i am asked to go
    and do research for few days; then think i can find the answer by myself

  • todaisies

    i am searching as many sites on this topic to join the opposition league