I'm on Stack Overflow

Diogenes's picture
dilbert (3K)

I recently discovered this web site called Stack Overflow, a Q/A (question/answer) site for programmers. It was mentioned in an online article from the NY Times titled Everyone Loves Google, Until It’s Too Big. I came upon it thru a Google Canada / News / Sci-Tech page. There is a certain irony in all of this.

At the time, I was having issues with certain web pages I had created; pages with sounds. Internet Explorer 7 had stopped working with these pages on the 2 computers we have. I didn't know when or why they stopped working, or if it was just our two systems or everybody's.

I Googled everywhere for an answer, including Usenet, but the best I came up with other were other vague queries similar to mine. No answers. So I gave up for awhile and read the news.

That's when I came across the NY Times article and tried out Stack Overflow. A "stack overflow" is a programmer term ( or error message) that is usually accompanied by a program or system crash. It's a great name for a programmer Q/A website.

Stack Overflow has at least 5 answers for each of the more than 100,000 questions posted on the site. It's a public site; all Q/A information posted is available to anyone free of charge. Anyone can post a question or provide an answer. There is also a voting system in place so questions and answers can be voted up or down.

Sure, you say, but that's all been done before, 100 times before. There is more, much more.

One of the really nice features that sets SO apart from the rest of the noise on the internet is that you can edit your Q/A after it has been posted. Crafting a good Q/A, like writing code, is rarely done on the frist first pass.

You can markup your Q/A post (bold, italics, list points) and even add web-links, code snippets, and images. The markup is done using a simple notation called markdown, a fitting and amusing name for its purpose.

soEditor2 (109K)

Below the editor box is a preview display of how your QA will look when it's been posted on the site. This is very cool (ok - I'm an old fart).

What makes Stack Overflow really shine

In order to vote on a Q/A, you must become a member. In becoming a member (which can be done anonymously) you join a social hierarchy, a society if you will, where membership has it's privileges. Not all members are equal. Privileges are conferred to members based on reputation, and you earn reputation from fellow members when they vote (if they choose to) on any Q/A that you have posted.

In simple terms, reputation is gained/lost by asking/providing questions/answers that are intelligent/stupid (pick a combination, any combination). Other members can vote on what you have to say. A vote for your post will earn you 10 reputation points, a vote against will cost you 2. These simple rules on earning (or losing) reputation points is the core dynamic of SO - use the wisdom of the crowds to select the best answer. Think of it as a kind of stock market for the opinions and views of computer geeks.

New members begin with only 1 reputation point. You need to have at least 15 points to even vote for someone else's post. The easiest way to earn these points is to answer a question or to ask a good question that others like. If only 2 members vote you up, you're in.

A stupid Q/A may result in a down vote. That costs you 2 points, but it costs the critic 1 point as well. There is no death penalty in this society. No member can go below 1 reputation point, as much as some would like that.

There are members that have tens of thousands of reputation points. They can do pretty much anything except kill you. If you are being silly or stupid, their collective opinion is enough to make sure that very few will listen to what you have to say and almost nobody will care.

I explored the site and found it intriguing - it has lots of great content. I had a problem that was still unsolved, but I had some clues. So I signed on and posted my question without really knowing much about SO worked. Doh!

The first 'question' I posted was stupid because the subject title I gave it was not a question at all. It was more an expression of my frustration with a certain large software company, which my lawyers have advise me not to name.

Jan 2009 Microsoft update breaks mp3 sound objects in IE7

I added images but the images did not appear with my question after I submitted the post. I tried all kinds of things to make it work, doing 6 or 7 edits before giving up. This was enough to trigger my question into to the netherlands called the wiki community.

Frustrated, and at the risk of being overly recursive, I then posted a question about posting a question. It was about adding images to questions. Some comments appeared almost immediately. Others were puzzled too.

Beginner posted a question with a picture, nothing shows up, what am I missing?

One thing led to another and I became obsessed. I explored the site, which had enough diversions to keep me entertained for many hours, and with more than just a few ROTFLMAO moments. I even found the answers to my own questions. If you are a programmer, and you are in need of a laugh, just look at the top answers to these posts…

It appears that Stack Overflow has been around for about 7 months. As I write this, by my reckoning there are close to 49,000 members. I joined 26 days ago and it looks like another 7,300 have signed on since.

In the end I actually answered all of my own questions, which was both stupid and smart. In the eyes of an accountant, this would net out to be a big waste of time. But I read some great material and had some great belly laughs.

My wife kept asking me what was so funny. All I could manage to say, as I wiped the tears from my eyes, is sorry - programmer humor - you wouldn't understand.

She's an accountant.