Why Developers have a Love-hate Relationship with Stack Overflow

Developers love Stack Overflow – for most parts. However, it's not just newbies who’ve experienced a sense of hostility, old-timers too have had similar encounters when trying to participate on Stack Overflow
Why Developers have a Love-hate Relationship with Stack Overflow
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Most developers have a tab open to Stack Overflow (SO) any time they are coding. The question-and-answer website was founded in 2008 by Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwoodas as an alternative to an earlier Q&A site, Experts-Exchange. The name of the website was chosen by a vote in April 2008 by readers of Coding Horror, Atwood’s popular programming blog.

In a conversation with Analytics India Magazine, a Stack Overflow spokesperson, said, “Community is the foundation of everything we do, and keeping a massive community healthy can be challenging.”

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(Not So) Beginner Friendly

A decline in the number of questions being asked compared to the answers on SO has been visible over the past few years. The reason being, first-time posters are not given enough instructions for posting accurate questions with a contextual understanding. Moreover, the questions are closely moderated and very often closed or downvoted. User opinions and study suggest SO is not very newbie-friendly.

(Credits: https://arxiv.org/abs/2208.10488

Too many people experience SO as a hostile or elitist place. Several accounts of why users no longer contribute to the platform can be found all over the internet.

It’s not just newbies who experience a sense of hostility. Old-timers have had similar encounters when trying to participate on Stack Overflow. A long-time user jotted down eight reasons why he thinks Stack Overflow is a difficult community to participate in. Hence, programmers abandoning the platform after using it for years does not come as a rude awakening.

Let’s go back to why users love it 

There’s no doubt that the platform is the de facto home of software development. If you have a (programming) question, there’s a very high possibility that it has already been answered on Stack Overflow. “To provide a sense of the scale of the platform’s impact, over 52 million questions have been asked on Stack Overflow to date. A new question is asked every 13 seconds on the platform,” the spokesperson said.

One can’t ignore the huge active-user community on the platform. “We’re one of the top-200 most-visited websites worldwide. We also see from our most-recent annual Developer Survey data that over 70% of developers these days are learning to code online, which includes videos, blogs, and sites,” they added. 

Today the platform has over 100 million monthly visitors. The Indian developer community relies on the public platform as a trusted resource for finding answers to their coding questions. Incidentally, India is the second biggest source of the traffic to SO after the United States. “About 96% of our Developer Survey respondents from India have visited Stack Overflow, and 69% said they considered themselves to be a part of the SO community,” the spokesperson said. 

Additionally, programmers find the platform’s user interface easy-to-use and visually appealing. Thanks to the Markdown markup language, no back-and-forth trips are required between writing markup and looking at the results to see if it looks the way you wanted. Moreover, the platform’s searchability factor makes it likeable. Not only can one search by full-text or tag or user, but there’s a whole API that allows users to data-mine the site in a bunch of ways.

Clearly, Stack Overflow is proof that nearly every problem one may experience, someone else has already solved it.

Latest advancements

Over the past few months, the team has been working on Staging Ground to improve the onboarding experience for the new users and increase the quality of first questions. Testing and research has shown positive signs that the work-in-progress project will help new users ask better questions on the platform while ensuring that other members of the community have the tools to relieve some of the burden of coaching.

Stack Overflow’s product suite extends beyond its public platform. The company is also continuing to evolve Stack Overflow for Teams which was launched in 2018, “to provide customers with a go-to knowledge base for developers to collaborate more effectively and increase their productivity,” the spokesperson said.

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Tasmia Ansari
Tasmia is a tech journalist at AIM, looking to bring a fresh perspective to emerging technologies and trends in data science, analytics, and artificial intelligence.

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