Tuesday, September 16. 2008
If you’re very lucky, on the fourth page of the search results, if you have the patience, you find a seven-page discussion with hundreds of replies, of which 25% are spam advertisements posted by bots trying to get googlejuice for timeshares in St. Maarten, yet some of the replies are actually useful, and someone whose name is “Anon Y. Moose” has posted a decent answer, grammatically incorrect though it may be, and which contains a devastating security bug, but this little gem is buried amongst a lot of dreck.
Some people propose answers. Others vote on those answers. If you see the right answer, vote it up. If an answer is obviously wrong (or inferior in some way), you vote it down. Very quickly, the best answers bubble to the top. The person who asked the question in the first place also has the ability to designate one answer as the “accepted” answer, but this isn’t required. The accepted answer floats above all the other answers.
At first I was a little bit skeptic about that. But now I am convinced that it really works. The people that visit this site are in general very skilled and take their time to provide good answers. There are no pointless discussions that bury the answer somewhere in long threads. Instead everyone tries hard to provide the best answer to earn reputation points. In return it's pretty fun to help people and get some kind of virtual award and feedback on the quality of your answer.
Although some users ask questions just for fun (e.g. your worst WTF moment - yes, mine is already posted there), it's still easy to find relevant questions. When you have a question, you'll get an answer pretty quickly. E.g. I posted a question about Flex and how applications can be accessed by search engine and soon got answers.
What's also very nice about Stack Overflow is how they have used Web 2.0 technologies. Ajax was used decently. They used it, where it makes sense, and not just where it is cool. Also they fully leveraged services like Open ID for log in, or Gravatar for your Avatar picture.
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