Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why I've stopped posting on StackOverflow

StackOverflow has a problem.  They've already dealt with (and conquered, more or less) a lot of the problems that an online community encounters (see Meta is Murder for a great example).  The Summer of Love was met with questionable success.  However, there's another problem that's been cropping up for me.

I've stopped answering questions on StackOverflow [0].  Asking questions helps me get more specific information, but answering questions often helped me to learn even more.  There are some questions that I've really enjoyed working through to find the best answer for the asker.

But I've stopped.  It's no longer worth digging through the never-ending piles of poor "Give me teh codez" style questions where no effort to find an answer is shown.  I learn less and less each time I hit Stack's front page.  Answering has lost the intrinsic value it used to have.

"Wait!" Stack cries.  "You can also earn reputation points and these nifty badges!"  The problem is neither of these work as a long-term motivation.  The leaps between new reputation benefits get too big after 3,000.  My ability to gain reputation has also increased but hasn't kept pace.  As of now, I'll need to gain 5.5k rep to get another neat privilege.  Badges are also nice but don't mean much after the first gold [1].

The reason behind this is that StackOverflow makes it too easy to ask bad questions.  They also have a lot of tools to deal with bad questions but it's no fun closing question after question when I don't learn anything or gain rep from it.  I think the fact that PHP has created an entire system to shut down bad questions speaks to the severity of this plague.

I'm not suggesting that we limit question-asking ability to those who are special in some way.  Meta is littered with ways to "improve" the state of this problem.  Here's my take:

  • StackOverflow already has an algorithm that determines "quality" of questions and answers.  Give me the option of only seeing questions above a certain threshold.  I don't mind seeing fewer questions if they're the ones that make me think.
  • Make it more difficult for users to ask questions.  Right now, the barrier to entry is very low.  One idea would be to make users take a quiz before asking their first question.
Perhaps I'm too cynical from my time in the PHP tag.  Maybe I should take a break and start answering questions after Christmas.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments!

[0] I haven't completely stopped.  I'm not answering at anywhere near the rate I was before.
[1] My opinion.  Comment if you've got a different one.

1 comment:

  1. A more optimistic view: It's not that there are more stupid questions. It's that you know more than you did when you first joined SO, so the majority of questions unlikely to teach you anything.

    If you're pushing yourself to learn, you'll always be on that "learning edge", and you'll tend to noticed the things you *don't* know more than the things you do. Teaching a newbie (or even just thinking about teaching a newbie) will show you how far you've come since you were a beginner.