Last year a new Q&A site for developers called Stack Overflow was opened to the public. We covered the site a bit on an episode of the AGP a few months back, but I just realized the other day that I hadn’t posted about it here.
The site is focused on the interaction between software developers which is truly how most of us learn the best — by working with, interacting with and drawing on the wisdom of other developers.
The site draws on a whole bunch of different elements that set it apart from other Q&A sites. Creator Jeff Atwood describes Stack Overflow as a free Q&A site that’s built and maintained by the community of developers.
While the site was built to answer developers’ questions, it also has some stiff competition in the form of the Experts’ Exchange. Most developers know about EE, and are annoyed by the fact that the site purports to charge money for access to the answers to development questions. As it turns out, it’s all available for free, you just need to look around a bit harder to find stuff.
Stack Overflow has been built with transparency and ease of use in mind since its inception; the model is to get as many eyeballs on a question as needed to get a good answer. Good questions and good answers are up-voted by the community — similar to the way Digg works, except it’s harder to game the system. Up-votes provide reputation points which at lower levels unlock some of the site’s features. The site also gives out badges for meeting certain goals on the site, based on the ability to get badges or special goals on Xbox live.
Jeff Atwood’s passion is around developing software from a more human perspective. Much of the design of the site for Stack Overflow, and the code behind it are based on driving positive behaviours within the developer community. Instead of lots of hard-and-fast rules, there are easy ways to do good things, and more difficult ways to do things that shouldn’t be overdone.
As a side-note, Stack Overflow’s codebase is written in C# using the ASP.NET MVC framework, and has been in use since the very early CTP days of MVC. It’s a great example of the power that can be brought to bear on the web with this toolset.
I love the site, it’s been a great resource for me for the past year or so, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a development dilemma that they need to solve.