Simon Palmer’s blog

December 13, 2010

Stackoverflow flair!

Filed under: stackoverflow — simonpalmer @ 8:12 pm

Stack Overflow profile for Simon at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

January 7, 2010

Back on Stack

Filed under: stackoverflow — simonpalmer @ 9:26 pm

I am back using Stackoverflow after falling out of love with it. I went back for a specific reason, which was entirely the right reason, namely that I had a difficult technical problem that I could not find any solution for. You can see the post which took me back here.

I got some great responses, although none of them led me to a real answer. I ended up logging a bug at Adobe about the issue. Lord knows what will happen to that and I still have a broken Flex socket server, but the experience was good enough that I have overcome my objections and re-joined the Stackoverflow community.

It is easy to spend (read waste) too much time there chasing rep points, and generally in response to questions that the posters ought really to be able to figure out for themselves. And my criticisms remain the same as they were, I have just got over them. Mostly.

There is a definite increase in the sorts of questions which start “I downloaded this code from the internet”, followed by “I have no idea what this bit does, but I changed it and now it doesn’t work”, followed by “can you tell me why”. Basically I think this is lazy and dangerous and I hope these ar students rather than professional programmers. Stackoverflow encourages this sort of behaviour because someone – probably in pursuit of rep points – will normally take the time to post an answer, sometimes a very good answer.

I’m not bothered about the rep any more, although it remains a nice idea and a very good way to get people hookes for long enough to see the real value underneath it. The self-regulation seems to be working reasonably well too and the excesses of the early days are all but gone and there are fewer people trying to be the SO police than there were – although that remains a problem.

So back on and getting and adding value. SO is now part of my technical infrastructure, which I suppose means it is succeeding.

November 6, 2008

Stack underflow

Filed under: stackoverflow — simonpalmer @ 12:20 pm

Ho hum.  I have lost my initial enthusiasm for Stackoverflow.  I think there are several reasons why:

  1. I am just tired of it
  2. I am sick of reading the same questions posted over and over again
  3. The preponderance of C# programmers asking basic questions is at once demoralisaing and uninteresting
  4. The broader programming population is involved which means that the 99% of programmers (who can’t code their way out of a paper bag) are using it as a first resort rather than a last resort.
  5. Stupid lazy kids are posting their homework questions.
  6. I no longer care about my reputation
  7. The community approach to censure afforded by earnt reputation sounds great, but is really just an absence of policy which leads to capricious and incoherent behaviour by anyone with sufficient reputation to do it.

The conclusion I have come to is that it has settled into a place where two types of questions get asked, i) basic ones by people who are not very good and that they should already know the answer to and ii) extremely niche technical questions that only one other person in the world can answer.

The shine has worn off answering the first type, and often it is clear that the person asking has not even bothered reading a book or googling before they jump in, let alone asked a colleague or figured it out themselves.  For the latter there are probably better forums inhabited by domain experts who will give you answers that may at least stem from some technical experience.

Another thing that has bothered me is the inability to discuss anything.  The format is pretty didactic.  You ask a question, a bunch of people give you answers.  In reality you want more of a dialectic and discussion.  I think that regular topic-oriented message boards do a better job.

So I am drifting back to flexcoders and the numpy and scipy boards.  Maybe I am just paying the price for not developing everything I do using Microsoft technologies (in fact not developing *anything* using Microsoft technologies), but my Stack underfloweth.

The technical forums I mention have been doing this for some time and the difference that Stackoverflow brings is twofold, first the range of topics is much broader; generally a discussion forum is specific to a technology.  Secondly they have brought gameplay into answering questions with the reputation voting.  This second one is the innovation.

In spite of my waning enthusiasm it does bring one more very positive thought to mind.  The community question and answer phenomenon on the web is very powerful and it is amazing how many people will willingly and freely share their expertise.  I predict an increasing number of question and answer sites such as Stackoverflow will appear and more and more sites will start to include the Q&A and community based reputation voting approach.

For it to work well (and in spite of my gripes, Stackoverflow does work well) I think that the subject area has to be tight enough that there is a reasonably well defined boundary of expertise (general q&a sites will fail, look at LinkedIn, where the questions section is rubbish), but general enough that there is a large body of people who can contribute, and the people involved need to spend a lot of time in front of computers.  I think this limits the possible scope of q&a, but that’s probably a good thing. I can imagine it working for a  younger generation of professionals like accountants and tax specialists.

Anyway, for now I am going to ask a few pointed questions and see how quickly I can reduce my reputation back to zero.

October 12, 2008

My stack floweth over

Filed under: facebook, stackoverflow — simonpalmer @ 10:25 pm

Thou preparest a forum before me in the presence of mine nerdy peers: thou anointest my questions with answers; my stack floweth over.

I *really* like Stackoverflow.  I think it is partly the innate nerd in me and partly the socialist programmer.  I regularly contribute to several technical forums and I try and balance what I take from them with what I contribute to them.  A quick back-of-a-fag-packet summary of my posts shows that my answers far outweigh my questions, so I am a good little citizen as well – at least I hope I am.

I’m also quite an avid Facebook follower, but that phenomenon has definitely peaked.  I like the fact that I have a place to put my photos and I know there are certain friends whom I pretty much keep in touch with via that medium.  So it has found its place in the substrate of human interaction and will, I suspect, ever remain there, but the shine is off it.

What Stackoverflow has, which Facebook never will, is the single interest group fraternity.  They have also been very clever in using a self-regulated voting system so you can recommend and decommend (is that a word – if not it should be) people’s answers.  Like many social phenomena it is amazingly good at rewarding good behaviour and it is totally addictive.  Basically the rest of teh community gives you a reputation which is reflected in your profile as a point score.

I currently have 944 Reputation points (rubs fingertips together excitedly).

And the fact that those points have been obtained by other people voting for answers that I have posted makes it totally addictive.  Maybe I am disclosing an unfulfilled side of myself, but I do get a buzz out of providing a good answer and conversely it is cringingly awful when a question gets panned.

And as if the reputation were not enough it is actually informative and useful and watched by some seriously good techincal people.  It has almost replaced google as my go-to source for technical answers.  As the number of questions grows it becomes more and more authoritative.

The authors of the site are being haled as brilliant innovators and I think that they have the balance of playful addiction and useful resource just about right.

I suspect the allure of a large reputation number may wane, but the value of the resource is likely to remain.

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