Stack Overflow

08/23/09

Stack Overflow

Earlier I was tempted to post something about the barrier to entry in certain communities (open source projects, a certain auction site, and now Stack Overflow), but I think I just broke through the latter one. And now I’m starting to get addicted.

Stack Overflow is a site where programmers can ask and answer questions. It’s like a modern version of Usenet. It has sister sites for other types of questions (see the FAQ).

The initial barrier to entry is that it requires an OpenID account. This is free, if somewhat cryptic. After that, the issue is reputation.

You need reputation points to do anything besides asking and answering questions. In particular, voting up or down on answers requires a certain reputation level (again, see the FAQ). In practice this means that you’ll want to answer a few questions (and answer them correctly and completely) to accumulate some points.

Somewhat more annoying are the hidden requirements. I had typed up a careful answer to one post, and it was refused - I had more than one hyperlink in it. New members are restricted to a single link per answer. (Fortunately it allows you to edit your response and resubmit it.) I tried to answer several questions in succession, and had to wait three minutes between posts (again, because I was new). Presumably these are anti-spam tactics, but it would be nice if they were clearly spelled out.

Once you start answering some questions and gaining reputation, though, the addiction can strike. Wow - if I get 100, I can Vote Down! Were there any easy ones just posted? Any in my areas of expertise?

The tagging system is nice. It lets you quickly find questions in a given category. You can see the newest questions, unanswered questions, etc. Note that even answered questions may be worth looking at; you can always expand upon (or correct) the existing responses.

Somewhat annoying, a bit insular, but definitely worth a look.

P.S. I’m on as TrueWill.


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