Stack Overflow is a great community and resource

When Stack Overflow publicly launched back in September, I registered immediately after learning about it from a coworker. The product of Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood (among others), the site aimed to be a collaborative Q&A site focused on programming and software development. You could ask questions or provide answers to any of them. In their own words it was combination of “Wikis, Blogs, Forums, and Digg/Reddit”. Furthermore, they made no attempt at hiding the fact that they were designed to be better than other questionable sites, such as Experts-Exchange.

Though I registered over two months ago I’ve mostly been lurking since, but have been most astounded by the rate at which questions – often complex and very specific issues – get answered. Since the site allows users to rate/vote up other people’s answers, it provides an incentive for users to give good answers that will be recognized by others, gaining them points and increasing their “reputation score”. In this sense, it’s like Digg, but with a global ranking system.

I finally entered to the fray, answering a question about JavaScript the other day. It was actually a chore to find an unanswered question that I could answer, so I happily typed out my reply and finished it as fast as I could. This allowed to me to earn my first set of points! Neat! I am now hooked, and can easily see how the site and its concept has attracted such a passionate audience.

Another interesting aspect of the site is using it as a snapshot to see which topics are of interest in software development. By browsing the tags page, which lists the keywords most used by questions, it is easy to see that .NET topics (C#, ASP.NET) dominate the website, followed by Java and C++. PHP and JavaScript were quite a bit behind. This actually surprised me, given the prevalence of LAMP-oriented development.

But perhaps that’s because web development does not constitute a majority of software development. Furthermore, the topics that questions are being asked about does not necessarily correlate with the popularity of the topic – in fact, an extremely popular and established language might not have very many questions posted since the majority of the answers to questions will likely be found by a Google search. Nonetheless, the view of Stack Overflow provides an interesting zeitgeist into what’s actively being used.

I’ve also learned a bit from Stack Overflow beyond the actual content. In particular I was interested in their use of the UserVoice service to setup a community-driven bug report/feature request forum. I have since done the same for RunTrackr. The clean layout and easy to use navigation also provide some good examples of a simple but effective web UI.

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