My 1/03/10 Missoulian column
Last week, I described a fairly new way of participating online – called StackExchange – that takes blogs a step toward more democratic discussions of complex subjects and the development of large, accurate knowledge-based Web sites.
The value of Stack Overflow (the first large and now very popular Web site that uses Stack Exchange) is immediately obvious from the hundreds of thousands of correct answers for questions on all aspects of computer programming.
How does Stack Overflow work so well? The system holds users accountable by letting everyone answer and comment on questions, and in many cases, correct each other.
Stack Overflow uses a point system that lets users build “reputations” for correct answers. But simply asking questions can raise your reputation, too, so the system encourages beginners. Of course, some people really get into the game of running up their reputation with thousands of answers, but that’s good, as their work and their answers become valuable to all users.
Stack Overflow is fast paced; I’ve gotten answers to programming questions in just a few minutes, and lost answer “races” to faster typists somewhere else in the world.
Search engines also favor Stack Overflow; questions and subsequent answers often get indexed by Google within half an hour, and that means they are easy for anyone to find.
Stack Overflow also caters to what’s called “lurking.” Many of us search for something we want to know, find it on a Web site and move on, without interacting in that Web site. In a Stack Overflow model, lurkers are rewarded in a way, because they can find what they need quickly in the work of many other users. And a lurker might be encouraged to join in after discovering the quality of a site.
Though software like StackExchange seems like it would be free, it’s not. (But there are several free, open source versions under development.) However, not being free software hasn’t slowed Stack Exchange’s growth. There are hundreds of sites that use the StackExchange system, having to do with diverse subjects as farming, sports, home repair, mathematics, the environment and more.
Go to www.stackexchangesites.com for a list of Stack Overflow-style sites, and check out Quench, an open source Stack Overflow “clone.”
This week in Mac Q & A: What’s Shockwave Player?