Saturday, 23 June 2012

Why I (gradually) stopped using Stackoverflow

WIP: To this day, Stackoverflow remains the best executed community I have ever seen on the Internet. The perfect mix of community involvement, incentive, communication with staff and more. It was refreshing. As you should in a community, you felt part of something. Really part of something. I stopped using it because the incentive and moderation system was too good. I felt managed, coerced and pressured to be have a certain way. At this point, the cultural and functional structures designed to moderate the community suddenly drained the fun away. And that's what Stackoverflow was ... fun. Why did I gradually stop using it?

My Reputation Graph

I love Stackoverflow. I have been a user for 3 years with a reputation of around 17k.When I first discovered Stackoverflow it was a revelation, and I was hooked (as seen in the graph). The low points in the first year are when I had a large amount of work on, and could not dedicate time to SO. I really wanted to, it was great.  I spent hours in meta chatrooms (hell, I remember the insanity when they let a few of us on the first time). It was a glorious community being born. What worked was:

  1. The philosophy
    The philosophy was all about making the Internet better in a small way. Q&A was lame, and it was straightforward (in principle) to make it better.
  2. The site was awesome
    As a software developer, you appreciated the effort that was put in to make things easy for you. It wasn't pretty ... but you didn't care.
  3. The balance
    There were some funny questions, but they also had a point. They were interesting. 
  4. Always something for me
    I could be almost 100% sure that, at any point, if I clicked on "unanswered" for C or Python or PHP or whatever ... there would be something I really wanted to answer. There was plenty that I could, many more I should ... but always some I wanted to answer.
Stackoverflow users on the bit bus delivering a datadump to the world ....

Then (again as seen in my rep graph), something changed. Although I did have a few clashes with the moderators (my Unicorn money wasn't good enough for a bribe either), it wasn't the end of the world. I wasn't about to go the way of "he that can't be named" and work against the site ... But something was changing ....

Fear and Loathing on Stackoverflow

Stackoverflow was loosing its perspective. The 1,000,000th question brought a fear that the noise would start to grow... that Stackoverflow would die under its own popularity. This didn't seem to be happening but the slew of admin functionality was growing like artillery lines being prepared for a coming siege. Moderators started clamping down on humor, personality or anything that wasn't a clean cut answer to a clean cut question. I can appreciate that a line had to be drawn to keep the site useful, but the line was degrading the comic relief and "community feeling" in the process.

Stackoverflow: For the good of the people.
As questions grew less "exciting" due to the popularity of the site, the tightening of the regime started to tip a balance. Questions were not as juicy, and I might have answered them anyway "for the good of the people", but it wasn't fun anymore. I started to feel like a solider in a question answering army.