Thoughts and opinions of a technology enthusiast.

Stack Overflow – Where Experts Exchange Information

soLast 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.

Nerd Dinners — Geekery and Good Eats

NerdDinner.comLeave it to the big brains of Scott Guthrie and Scott Hanselman to come up with this simple yet super cool concept. Nerd Dinners — a way (by use of web technology) for a bunch of introverts to meet up with each other and enjoy a meal, and the kind of conversation that drives our non-geek spouses crazy.

Anything that helps to foster conversation between people who are passionate about a topic is a good thing in my book.  If it involves code and geekery, so much the better.

It’s a great idea, and I hope to see one (or a few) organized in and around Vancouver before too long… otherwise I’ll have to set one up.  The closest one as of this posting is in Redmond. Cool, but I don’t think I can justify a two hour drive down for dinner. Not yet, anyway.

Check out NerdDinner.com and meet up with some nerds in your community!

Goodbye Grand Central, Hello Google Voice!

google_voiceGoogle today announced a new service to (some of) it’s customers called Google Voice. The service works very similarly to Grand Central (which the big G acquired back in 2007).

The system allows you to create a single phone number, to which you can aggregate other numbers to have a unified system for voice and messaging.

I’ve been trying to get myself a Grand Central account for several months, but I guess with the lead up to the Google Voice launch they haven’t been creating new numbers for people.  It looks, from a post on the Google Voice help site, that the service will be rolling out over the next few weeks.  The service will first be made available to existing Grand Central users, and rolled out to the rest of the great unwashed as it matures in the next few months.

There’s no indication at this stage if the service will be geographically limited but I suspect that, intitially at least, the service will only offer US-based phone numbers at launch.

Multiple RSS Feeds with DualFeeds

rssI’m a huge fan of bloggers (and podcasters and well… everyone else for that matter) using full feeds for subscribers to their sites.  I’ve got no time for people who demand that I hit their website to be able to read the content.  If you want to monetize the feed that’s fine, but let me read it where I want.

That said, I was contemplating this evening whether it would be possible to offer both full and summary feeds from kdmurray.net.  The reason? I wanted to start pushing partial posts to Facebook with a minimum of fuss.

The problem? WordPress only supports one post feed out of the box.

The solution?  Stephen Cronin‘s DualFeeds plugin (which I found thanks to @bluefur on Twitter).  The plugin allows you to create multiple feeds one for full-posts, and a second for post summaries.  This is a very elegant solution to the problem.  Though I wanted to add the stuff into Facebook, I didn’t want to push whole posts because I did want to try and use this to drive some traffic to the site.

Technically the plugin works very well.  I was able to set it up in just a couple of minutes and after about 15 minutes of testing have found that it plays nice with FeedBurner’s FeedSmith plugin, as well as my other feed-related plugin FeedEntryHeader — the latter as it turns out was also written by Stephen Cronin.

If you’ve ever wanted to be able to offer multiple feeds from your site, have a look at DualFeeds.  Works like a charm.

Twitter Acquires Sandy and Stikkit

twitter logoHere’s a clip of a post I did over on the AGP Blog about the acquisition of Sandy & Stikkit by Twitter. It’s going to be very interesting to see what Twitter decides to do with the newly acquired technology, particularly in the wake of reduced services in nearl every country outside the US (read: no more SMS!!!).  Here’s a clip from the feature-length version:

Twitter has snapped up the IP behind a couple of popular Web 2.0 services.  I Want Sandy and Stikkit were both acquired by Twitter a few weeks ago.  The services were originally scheduled to go offline last week, but this window has been extended until the end of business (17:00 PT) this Friday, December 19th.

Check out the original post over on the AGP blog.

Time will tell…

WordPress 2.7 “Coltrane” Released

I really don’t have any time to do a nice full-length post on the release of WordPress 2.7 tonight. So I’ll provide a whole bunch of links for you to get your 2.7 fix.

If you’ve not tried 2.7 yet, read over the new info then give it a shot.  The super-new-and-improved admin interface is well worth the upgrade!

WordCamp Whistler 2009 Details Released

WordCamp Whistler is a go for 2009!

January 24th and 25th in Whistler a meeting of WordPress minds will meet up in Whistler, BC. The keynote speaker for the event will be Blogging Evangelist Lorelle VanFossen.

If you’re in the Vancouver-Whistler area, or can plan to be here the $35 entry fee is a great price for such a high-quality event. If you’re already registered, grab a badge and pimp the event on your site, your twitter or anywhere else!

One Year Anniversary: Random Image Selector 1.2.0

I can’t believe it’s been one year since the last major release of the random image selector.  Since the plugin’s initial inception last summer it has received a fair amount of attention garnering nearly 11,000 downloads.

Random Image Selector - Downloads Per Day

Random Image Selector - Downloads Per Day

I’m glad that it’s proven useful for people and there will be a major update coming out over the Christmas break to coincide with the WordPress 2.7 release.  This update will include a few bug fixes, a couple of minor feature changes and one significant addition.

Thanks to everyone who has downloaded the plugin, and to those who have left feedback on the blog!

Google Launches Tasks for Gmail

GmailToday Google announced on the official Gmail blog that it had added tasks to Gmail Labs.

The new feature provides a simple task list that can be activated using the labs menu.  To activate this, click on the green beaker at the top of the screen.

The task list in and of itself is basic, and provides a point that Google can use to extend its functionality in the future… features like integration with Google Calendar (yea, they left that out) and the ability to collaborate & share tasks through Gmail.

While this won’t likely satiate the desires of the Getting-Things-Done crowd, it’s a decent to-do list for keeping track of a non-complex list of items.  The most functional advantage that this has over desktop-based task solutions like Outlook is the ability for it to be accessed anywhere you can hit-up your Gmail.

Overall I’m a big fan of Google’s “Labs” concept. Pre-releasing new functionality in an opt-in manner is the hallmark of open-source and the web 2.0 community, and is a principle that the search giant seems to have embraced wholeheartedly.  Here’s hoping we see more useful features coming out of Mountain View.