While other people may be addicted to Facebook, or MySpace, the site that got me hooked over the last year is StackOverflow.
StackOverflow (SO) is a Q&A site for developers and a heaven for geeks. Unlike the multitude of other sites that purport to fulfill this function, it’s easy to use, full of talented people, and most important: free.
SO is the brain-child of Jeff Atwood (if you haven’t read his blog, Coding Horror – you owe it to yourself to add it to your “must read” list) and Joel Spolsky, who I quoted many a time on this blog.
But the best thing about the site is its community. Not only does it help you get out of sticky code situations, but it also edits, filters and tags questions, throws out spam and inappropriate material, and basically governs itself. Borrowing from the Xbox Live Reputation System, SO rewards users for answering questions, asking interesting questions, commenting, editing and grading other users’ content.
It’s not enough to just answer questions – your answers have to be accepted by the community as good/interesting/contributing to a solution. Your answer can be voted up – or, as I’ve sadly discovered – voted down. On a question regarding password policies, I found out that so many people dislike such policies that they voted me down 3 times yielding a –6 points to my reputation. You can see all the questions I asked/answered by clicking my profile at the top of the post. The reputation badge is dynamic and will always show my current reputation.
You can also win badges, such as “nice answer”, “supporter” and “scholar” but also “tumbleweed” – the dubious honor of asking a question with no answers, no comments, and low views for a week. You can earn bronze, silver and gold medals – although the last type is extremely hard to get. But most of all, you gain the ability to edit content on the site – oh, and bragging rights
The site was such a success, that 2 sister sites (using the same web app, but a different color scheme) popped up: ServerFault for server-related issues, and SuperUser for miscellaneous computer issue. An SU user actually saved me money recently: my Xbox 360 controller stopped responding, the guy from Microsoft Support advised me to buy a new one (after over an hour on the phone without resolution) – but the answer I got on SU was actually simple and effective.
Today I attended the first SO conference. StackOverflow DevDays was held at Fort Mason in San Francisco, overlooking the Golden Gate bridge on one side and Alcatraz island on the other. During the day StackOverflowers met Joel, Jeff and each other. There were several interesting development lectures (I liked Rory Blyth’s iPhone dev – mainly because of the way he presented, and Scott Hanselman's from Microsoft showing the new beta of Visual Studio 2010 and Asp.NET MVC beta 2). During the break, a guy from Microsoft gave everyone 4Gb of memory for their laptops – all in all, a very cool day.
If you are a geek like me, StackOverflow is highly recommended. If you’re an IT guy, you’ll find your crowd on ServerFault. And if you are just a regular computer user, post your questions on SuperUser. Whatever it is you are struggling with, chances are other people solved it before.