Monday, November 12, 2012

The trouble with StackExchange

I love the idea behind the StackExchange family of websites.  They've taken something that usually was a horrible experience (Q&A on the web) and created an entirely new way to solve almost any kind of problem.  I also like how they're unafraid to branch out to other topics, even beyond technology.  (For the curious, Biblical Hermeneutics and Parenting are some of the ones you wouldn't expect to find).

The problem is that us geeks tend to be very territorial.  We want our sites to be just as we want them, without all the riffraff.  And there's a LOT of riffraff.  Far too many "professional" programmers see StackOverflow as a crowdsourced application to write their code.  Spend a few days in the PHP tag and you'll see what I mean.

The deluge of bad questions creates a calloused attitude among members who have been around for a while.  One example of this is my recent question at Ask Ubuntu.  While Linux Mint is off-topic there, the Ubuntu Keyserver isn't.  My question involved both.  While it was determined that the question was on topic, it still was closed.

This is an edge case that left me with a bitter experience (and no answer to my problem!).  StackExchange has some great tools for dealing with bad answers but very few for dealing with false positives.  The canonical (pun intended) answer would be to flag my question for moderator attention.  This puts the decision in the hands of a single person which isn't very useful.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a one-time edge case.  It may be.  In any case, it should not be taken lightly.  Tales like this can ruin the user's experience.  If you're building a social website, make sure you have an effective system to avoid these false positives.  StackExchange recently added a reopen queue. We'll see if it stands the test of time.

Thanks for sticking with me in this rant.  If you liked it (or have an idea to solve these sorts of problems) add a comment below!

1 comment:

  1. While I agree with you in principle, your particular question wasn't closed by a "single person" by by concurrence of 5 persons.